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Thursday, July 4, 2013

What We Declare

When I was a high school junior, I had the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia to attend the Valley Forge Freedoms Foundation Youth Conference.  It was a for me in many ways:  my first flight, my first time away from home without the parents and my first time in another time zone.  I joined about 100 other high school kids from all over the United States to learn about freedom.  We toured Independence Hall, saw the Liberty Bell and then went on to Valley Forge.

While it was certainly moving to see these hallowed treasures of our nation's history, the most impacting part of the program involved a presentation from a former Soviet prisoner.  His name escapes me, but, his story bears repeating, especially now when our own freedoms are being threatened from within.

The man spent many years in a Soviet prison camp because he spoke out against the repression fostered by that government.  He told us that people had to worship in secret and they could not openly express themselves in disagreement with those in authority.  This was oppression at its worst.  He said that when he arrived in the United States, it was as though he were stepping into a dream land because of the immense freedom we enjoy.  The first thing he did was find a church where he could go and thank God.  The former prisoner said that only when he stepped into the tiny Catholic church could he fully experience freedom, where he could kneel in the presence of God in humble gratitude and in supplication for his homeland.

I stand some 28 years removed from that conference.  Oh how things have changed when that wide-eyed 17-year-old kid was listening to the former dissident, never thinking that the same thing could very well happen here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Sadly, we are seeing a slow erosion of our religious liberties, beginning with the ill-conceived HHS mandate.  Our freedom of religious conscience is being ignored and dismissed in the name of the god of political correctness.  Those who claim to be Constitutional law scholars engage in activities that violate the very basis of our Bill of Rights.  In fact, many of our founding citizens came to this country precisely because they yearned for the freedom of religion.  Catholics who were still being treated as second-class citizens by the British empire settled in Maryland (which, if I understand correctly, is named after no less than the Blessed Virgin Mary, herself).  Freedom of religion is fundamental.  It is not merely restricted to worshipping as our Church dictates; it also means being able to freely express that belief in the public square.

The Founding Fathers probably never envisioned that, some 237 years after Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, the nation would be faced with a growing cancer from within that would chip away at the very freedoms they fought to establish.   As Founding Father John Adams once noted, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Despite his flawed theology, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence with the belief that Someone greater than ourselves is the sole guarantor of our liberties:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Notice that the first right endowed by our Creator is LIFE. Jefferson did not qualify that statement to mean only those who are born or those who are free or those who belong to other categories. Interestingly enough, St. Paul never made any distinctions among those who are called by Christ (there are no Jews, no Greeks, no slave, no freed; we are all one Body).  The right to LIFE applies to ALL, the born and the unborn, the very young and the very old. It is the most fundamental right because it is the primal one.

Outside my window, the fireworks are beginning to burst forth into the night sky.  Hues of red, white and blue are sailing through the darkness.  Americans of all stripes are celebrating the freedom of which Jefferson wrote and for which Washington fought.  That battle continues even to this day; however, instead of being waged on the battlefield against an oppressive kingdom, it is now being fought in legislative chambers and in courts of law.

On this July 4th, in the Year of Our Lord, 2013, I leave with one final quote, this time, from the prayer that Archbishop John Carroll penned on November 10, 1791, a prayer which still forms an integral part of the Masses we celebrate both on Independence Day and Thanksgiving:
We pray  you, O God of might, wisdom, and justice, through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with your Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to your people, over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of your divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We  recommend likewise, to your unbounded mercy, all our fellow citizens throughout  the United States, that we may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the  observance of your most holy law; that we may be preserved in union, and in  that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of  this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.
May God bless this union we call the United States of America and may He bless my beloved Texas, whose Legislature is debating the very issue of life.  May He touch the hearts of our 181 lawmakers, reminding them that, in the final analysis, it matters not if one stood with their party; rather, that they stood with Christ.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Liturgical Javert? Not really

Whenever I work late, I usually catch "The Busted Halo" program on my Sirius XM radio.  Hosted by Father Dave Dwyer of the Paulist Fathers, the show presents the Catholic Faith in a relaxed, relatable format, with the ever genial Dwyer fielding questions about the Church, including queries about liturgy.

Not infrequently, a listener calls in with a question concerning liturgical abuse, whether it's not kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer, blessings in lieu of Holy Communion or some other strange activity that pops up during the Mass.  To his credit, Dwyer tries to answer the question as accurately as he can; however, during one broadcast, his commentary about "liturgical police" made me prick my ears like one of my dachshunds.

One listener was concerned about some irregularities she witnessed at a Mass in her local area.  It concerned folks not kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer.  After listening to her question, Dwyer tried to give the parish the benefit of the doubt and then told her that she probably should have stood, as this could be a parish custom (the caller had knelt, as indicated in the GIRM). Then, Dwyer uttered the two words that wounded me "liturgical police."

Now, I like Fr. Dave and have called into the show a few times; however, the "liturgical police" comment bothered me.  It made me wonder if Fr. Dave had read any part of Redemptionis Sacramentum, one of the last documents promulgated under the authority of Blessed John Paul II, and co-written by no less than his own successor, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.  The document states that:

it is the right of all of Christ's faithful that the Liturgy, and in particular the celebration of Holy Mass, should truly be as the Church wishes, according to her stipulations as prescribed in the liturgical books and in the other laws and norms. Likewise, the Catholic people have the right that the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass should be celebrated for them in an integral manner, according to the entire doctrine of the Church's Magisterium. Finally, it is the Catholic community's right that the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist should be carried out for it in such a manner that it truly stands out as a sacrament of unity, to the exclusion of all blemishes and actions that might engender divisions and factions in the Church.
Now, granted, there are some who do get nit-picky about stuff such as harping on mistakes that the altar server might make or whether or not the EMHC wore too much red lipstick (I plead guilty to wearing bright lip colors when I help out), but abuses do happen and they sometimes have ugly consequences.  They also take on a life of their own and spread like a cancer all over the parish, and, in some cases, all over the diocese when they go unchecked.  What is most painfully apparent is when the abuses are caused by the very ones who are supposed to safeguard against such activities, the clergy themselves. And, when the faithful raise a legitimate concern, they get the term "liturgical police" hurled at them.

Some priests have become a little more creative, going so far as calling such faithful "liturgical Javerts", after the villain from Les Miserables, played rather well by Charles Laughlin. In the 1935 version of the film, Laughlin's Javert tells his commanding officer that despite his own background (having been born in prison and having a mother who was a prostitute and a father who was in the galley), he would strive to uphold the law at all cost.  For Javert, from that point on, it was black and white.  Javert did not see any legitimate options to the law.  It was all or nothing.

In the case of informed faithful who have some understanding of the Church's liturgical law, we know that legitimate options exist for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Francis Cardinal Arinze, himself, made that observation. When clergy exercise legitimate options, there should not be a problem; however, when the strange and the bizarre occur that are not permitted by the Church, then the faithful have a right to formally complain.  It is not about the sheep turning on the shepherd; it's about the sheep holding the shepherd accountable.

Sadly, when the sheep speak out against the abuse, the shepherd tries to smite them, rather than make the effort to investigate why his action could be wrong.  What is just as painful is when those faithful who may not be liturgically catechized wind up assailing the "liturgical police", telling them that they should not stand up to the celebrant because he is the priest.  We are not "liturgical Javerts", who seek to subject the errant to the thumbscrews or the galley.  Unlike Javert who enforced the law for the sake of the law, those of us who strive for liturgical integrity do so because of a deep love for Christ and His Church, realizing that the Mass is not anyone's personal property; rather, it is our Church's greatest treasure and no one, not even the celebrant, has the right to cut and paste as he sees fit.  Ironically, the one time when Jesus acted almost violently and rather forcefully was when He saw the sacred space of the Temple desecrated by moneychangers and animal vendors (next time someone asks "what would Jesus do", taking whips and overturning tables comes to mind).  If His own Father demanded liturgical integrity in the worship of Ancient Israel, should not the Son expect anything less when it comes to the integrity of the worship employed by the New Israel, the Church He founded?

In this Year of Faith, which is approaching its last quarter, we would do well to ask ourselves, do we know enough about the liturgy, about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?  If we pray as we believe, should we not strive for liturgical integrity?  Maybe we could start by reading Redemptionis Sacramentum in its entirety and then enrich our understanding of the Mass by studying "The Spirit of the Liturgy", Pope Emeritus Benedict's great opus on the sacred liturgy.  A wild zeal for the law impelled Javert to take harsh actions. There was no love there. He studied the law and could quote it; however, he had no love.  When we study the liturgy and see how, in its proper usage, it brings us to love God, then, like Jesus, zeal for our Father's house, will consume us, and we will see that the Lord deserves nothing less than our best, a worship without blemish.  That is a battle worth waging.