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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Restoring Thursday

Thursday bears a special significance for the Church.  It was on a Thursday that Christ instituted the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood.  Traditionally, it was on a Thursday when Christ  ascended to the heavens, mounting his throne amidst shouts of joy from the angels.  

Up until the year 2000, Texas had celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension on its traditional day, Thursday, exactly 40 days after Easter.  Unfortunately, the bishops reached the decision to translate this very important day from its biblically traditional date to the closest Sunday.  The usual suspect for this particular line of thinking was that it was for "pastoral" reasons.  Sadly, sometimes even pastoral decisions are not always the best ones.

When we begin to tinker with sacred liturgical time, we lose sight of the deeper meaning behind why, for nearly two millennia, the Church celebrated this feast when she did (although certain places, praise God, still maintain the tradition).   The number 40 holds a special designation for Ancient Israel and the New Israel, which is the Church.  Noah and the occupants of the ark endured the Great Flood for 40 days.  Ancient Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years.  The Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph presented the infant Jesus in the Temple 40 days after His birth.  Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying, vanquishing Satan and his temptations towards the end.  As St. Luke tells us in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, for 40 days after his triumphant Resurrection, Christ instructed the surviving 11 Apostles, spending no little time with them to prepare them for the great work that lay ahead.

On the 40th day, Thursday, St. Luke tells us that Christ has been "at table" with the Apostles.    In St. Luke's Gospel, this "table" connection appears another time:  Emmaus.  Jesus is at "table" with Cleopas and the other disciple when He breaks the bread, revealing who He is.  Jesus has one more liturgy with His Apostles, telling them that they must now look to Him in the Eucharist.  And, when did He first reveal Himself in the Eucharist?  It happened on Holy Thursday.  Again, we see the connection between Holy Thursday and Ascension Thursday.

Jesus reminds them to "do this in memory of Me", to celebrate the Holy Eucharist.  He returns them to the place where it first took place.  Then, he leads them to Mount Olivet, the site of His agony in the Garden.  That sorrowful night was the last time that 10 of them probably saw Him before the soldiers took him away.  Now, this would be the last time that the 11 would physically see Christ on this Earth.  Jesus enjoins them to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes upon them.  The same men who left Mount Olivet in fear the night Jesus was betrayed would burst forth from the Upper Room with courage and zeal, bearing witness to Christ "not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed, to the ends of the Earth."

Then, Christ blesses them for the last time and then, on His own power, He is lifted up while the Apostles look up and a cloud removes Him from sight.  Two angels appear to the 11 and tell them that Jesus will come back in the same way just as they had seen him ascend.  The Apostles then return to the Upper Room, joined by the Blessed Mother, and begin the first novena, engaging themselves in nine days of prayer.  On the fiftieth day, the Holy Spirit descends upon them, bursting into the Upper Room and literally inflaming the hearts of the Apostles, while Mary, who was already full of the Holy Spirit, witnesses the launch of the Church.

Biblically, numerically and liturgically, Thursday needs to be preserved.  The Church traces many of her practices to Ascension Thursday.  We get our reckoning of the Proper of Time from Easter Sunday and count 40 days to Ascension Thursday.  From Ascension Thursday, we trace our practice of the novena, nine days of Prayer, reminding ourselves that the Apostles spent these days in intense prayer with the Blessed Virgin Mary.  On the fiftieth days of Easter, we mark the descent of the Holy Spirit.  We get the name Pentecost (whose root comes from 50) because, 50 days after the celebration of the Passover, Ancient Israel celebrated the feast of Pentecost.  That is why so many of Ancient Israel's children were in Jerusalem.

For nearly 2,000 years, the Church kept this sacred time intact.  However, something happened that has caused us to lose track of this very important and sacred time.  Up until the year 2000, it did not seem to me that it was too much of a hardship or an imposition for people to go to one extra Mass during the week.  If parents can make time to take their children to extracurricular activities such as karate, baseball practice, band practice, cheerleading events or other things, or if adults can make time to slavishly attend their gym regimen (zumba, spinning, weights, etc), why not invest the same time for God?  Why not celebrate the fact that Christ raised the dignity of our humanity by taking His body back to heaven?

Maybe the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (and, by extension, the bishops of Texas), thought that an additional day out of the week for Mass was too much of a burden so they came up with some sort of "pastoral" reason to move this important feast to Sunday.  I would submit to them that  this is a short-sighted practice because it actually reduces the significance of what that day means.  When we break the connection that Ascension Thursday has with Holy Thursday and with the commemoration of the first Novena, then we lose sight of the beauty of the biblical and ecclesiastical significance that this solemnity has.  Furthermore, if we are not impacted by the fact that Christ did not despise His humanity but took it with Him back to the Father, then, moving the Ascension to Sunday really does not do much.

I do take comfort in the fact that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum, which liberalized the use of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  At least in the 1962 Roman Missal, the integrity of Ascension Thursday is preserved.  Lamentably, the closest celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form is three hours away in the Rio Grande Valley.  As much as I wanted to go to the Oratory in Pharr, I could not due to work.  However, I do intend to take time off next year and go.

I do pray that the bishops of Texas will come to the realization that restoring Ascension Thursday to its proper celebration takes us back to our scriptural and liturgical roots.  The law of prayer is the law of belief; however, if we arbitrarily move feasts for the sake of convenience, then we have lost the connection to what is sacred and we risk having future generations that do not understand the significance of why the Church does what she does.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Restoring what could be lost

Yesterday, my Alma Mater celebrated its patronal feast day, the Memorial of Mary Help of Christians.  A bad migraine kept me from visiting the school on its feast day; however, I was able to make the trek today.

There is something to be said about having a whole campus to oneself.  While the buildings had been renumbered and some new classrooms had been added here and there, the lay of the land remained the same.  The chapel, shown above, has gone through very little changes; the stained glass windows were added after I graduated.

I learned to love the liturgy in this very building.  My father would drop me off at the ungodly hour of 6:30AM twice a week.  I was bleary-eyed through most of the Mass and, in order to keep me awake, the nuns would invite me to help them in the sacristy.  The nuns introduced me to the Lectionary and what was then known as the Sacramentary (now Roman Missal).  I learned about the Proper of Time and the importance of liturgical colors.  I even learned how to properly care for the sacred vessels.  Those twice-a-week lessons instilled in me a love for the sacred liturgy and it deepened my Faith.  My eighth grade teacher jokingly called me the class "theologian" because I really enjoyed the theological aspects of our daily religion classes.

Now 32 years removed from my graduation, I returned to what once was.  As I walked through the grounds of the open air campus, I could still see the eyeglass-wearing tall kid making her way to the library to check out some obscure book on the Mass or joining her classmates at what used to be the swimming pool.

I also thought about how much school liturgies have regressed since my time as a student.  I am not strictly speaking of my Alma Mater (although, in recent years, the new group has been slightly infected with LifeTeen and other weird things); I refer to what has happened elsewhere within the confines of my Local Church.

At Mass this weekend, I noticed a small program that had been left behind in the sacristy.  The parish school had celebrated its eighth grade graduation the night before and, as I read the program, I grew concerned.  The school had drawn its music from the Protestant Praise and Worship genre (very similar to what LifeTeen has done) and had inserted some para-liturgical items into the sacred liturgy.  One of the parents shared with me that she was concerned that the school had used recorded music and also engaged in some weird "teacher blessing" wherein the instructors were to impart a blessing on the graduates within the context of the Mass.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that, at least at the Local Church, Catholic school staff tend to use the Mass as some sort of petri-dish for liturgical experimentation.  The liturgy in question seemed to me to have heavy influences from both LifeTeen and the Leadership Council of Women Religious,  (on the one hand, music from LifeTeen and on the other, the strange ritual that seems to have been drawn from the LCWR).  One of the school's staff members actually comes from an order that is part of the LCWR.

Based on the commentary of the concerned parent and what I have also personally experienced at these particular liturgies, it seems to me that both the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and Redemptionis Sacramentum are routinely ignored when it comes to school liturgies.  The defense that organizers use is the Directory for Masses with Children; however, these are not kindergarten students who are being affected (although I am strongly against inflicting this kind of damage at an early age).  These are eighth graders who are old enough to be exposed to proper liturgy.

Having a song like "Alle, Alle, Alleluia" in place of the prescribed Gospel Acclamation is not allowed in the GIRM.  Music like "Love One Another", "With Every Beat of My Heart" and "Shine, Jesus Shine" may work for youth gatherings, but, they are inconsistent with the Church's liturgical documents and sacred musical patrimony.

It's as though the organizers either never read Sacramentum Caritatis and its back up documentation, or, they simply have chosen to go their own way, completely ignoring the rules.  I know that I have posted both references, but they do merit repeating.  In fact, while re-reading the Instrumentum Laboris for the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, I found this major observations that the bishops made:
(T)he songs and hymns presently in use need to be reconsidered.87 To enter into sacred or religious usage, instrumental or vocal music is to have a sense of prayer, dignity and beauty. This requires an integrity of form, expressing true artistry, corresponding to the various rites and capable of adaptation to the legitimate demands of inculturation. This is to be done without detracting from the idea of universality. Gregorian chant fulfills these needs and can therefore serve as a model, according to Pope John Paul II.88
Evidently, the bishops who took part in the Instrumentum Laboris believed (and still do) that music used in sacred worship needs to be re-examined.  Nine years removed from the Synod, the problem persists.

Now, here is the quote in question wherein the bishops specifically mention the problem with music used at Youth Masses:
In other responses some lamented the poor quality of translations of liturgical texts and many musical texts in current languages, maintaining that they lacked beauty and were sometimes theologically unclear, thereby contributing to a weakening of Church teaching and to a misunderstanding of prayer. A few responses made particular mention of music and singing at Youth Masses. In this regard, it is important to avoid musical forms which, because of their profane use, are not conducive to prayer. Some responses note a certain eagerness in composing new songs, to the point of almost yielding to a consumer mentality, showing little concern for the quality of the music and text, and easily overlooking the artistic patrimony which has been theologically and musically effective in the Church’s liturgy.
If the Synod Fathers found this kind of music problematic, should this not raise concerns within the Local Church where such a genre is used for the youth Masses that take place within its jurisdiction?  It certainly raised a concern for Pope Benedict XVI, prompting him to write this response in Sacramentum Caritatis:
Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration (128). Consequently everything -- texts, music, execution -- ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (129). Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed (130) as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy (131). 
If those who are planning retreats and other activities outside of the liturgy wish to use selections from Spirit and Song, then this could be suitable; however, when it comes to the Mass, they need to "respect the meaning of the liturgy", as Benedict noted in Sacramentum Caritatis.  While it is certainly laudable that Catholic Schools are doing their best to help pass on the Faith to their charges, they also need to adhere by the guidelines set forth by the Church and not make things up as they go along.

Along with music, another area of concern, insofar as these school Masses are concerned, is the mistaken idea that the Directory for Masses with Children permits everything and anything to occur. The idea of having teachers "bless" the graduating students within the context of the Mass is not allowed.

Again, we turn towards the Holy See, specifically, the Congregation for Divine Worship, for direction on this matter:
Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest (cf. Ecclesia de Mysterio, Notitiae 34 (15 Aug. 1997), art. 6, § 2; Canon 1169, § 2; and Roman Ritual De Benedictionibus (1985), n. 18). 
Adding this "ritual" into the Mass is a serious abuse to the liturgy.  It also confuses both the students and the parents because they have this mistaken notion that such an act is meaningful and special for the recipients, when it really has no bearing at all and seems to downplay the actual blessing that everyone will be receiving from the celebrant.  Those planning such a thing, including religious staff (i.e. nuns, brothers) should know better, especially since  Sacrosanctum Concilium expressly forbids this (Redemptionis Sacramentum reinforces this prohibition as well):

Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority. (Sacrosanctum Concilium
[11.]  The Mystery of the Eucharist "is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured".27 On the contrary, anyone who acts thus by giving free rein to his own inclinations, even if he is a Priest, injures the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, which ought to be vigorously preserved,28 and becomes responsible for actions that are in no way consistent with the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people today. Nor do such actions serve authentic pastoral care or proper liturgical renewal; instead, they deprive Christ's faithful of their patrimony and their heritage. For arbitrary actions are not conducive to true renewal,29 but are detrimental to the right of Christ's faithful to a liturgical celebration that is an expression of the Church's life in accordance with her tradition and discipline. In the end, they introduce elements of distortion and disharmony into the very celebration of the Eucharist, which is oriented in its own lofty way and by its very nature to signifying and wondrously bringing about the communion of divine life and the unity of the People of God.30 The result is uncertainty in matters of doctrine, perplexity and scandal on the part of the People of God, and, almost as a necessary consequence, vigorous opposition, all of which greatly confuse and sadden many of Christ's faithful in this age of ours when Christian life is often particularly difficult on account of the inroads of "secularization" as well.31 (Redemptionis Sacramentum)
Thus, the Church is very clear as to what can and cannot be done.  Lamentably, it has been my experience that those who organize school liturgies tend to hold more value over "rituals" that they create themselves as opposed to that which the Church has established since her very foundation.

The school liturgies that my Alma Mater held during my nine years there were not exactly the textbook model, at least insofar as music was concerned.  The early 1970s were a turbulent time full of sad experimentation and equally bad music.  We were subjected to the likes of the St. Louis Jesuits and other really bad things; however, to their credit, the nuns who handled our liturgies did not take it upon themselves to "create" something.  That was not the way Don Bosco would have had it.

However, these days, the creative spirit has reared its ugly head even there, though not as badly as in other places throughout the Local Church.

The final stop on my solitary tour of my Alma Mater was also my first stop:  the chapel.  As I looked around the space, my mind went back to my younger years. I could still see myself flipping through the pages of the old Sacramentary, asking Sister Guadalupe why some of the wording was in red while a huge chunk was in black.  She gave me the most basic explanation:  the red is what the priest is supposed to do and the black is what he is supposed to say.

It's really that simple.  That is all that has to happen in the Mass.  Unfortunately, when the red is not done and the black is not said, all of us lose out.  The Church loses her liturgical integrity and the faithful, most especially the students, lose perspective.  They lose out on the fact that the liturgy is not something that we can "cobble up", as Pope Benedict wrote on so many occasions; rather, the liturgy is a most precious gift from the Church so that we can render God proper worship.  We need to restore that and, in the case of Catholic schools, such a restoration needs to be made, lest the children lose that connection between worshipping as we believe.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What St. Catherine could teach the LCRW

I was visiting the website of a Boston parish when I noted that the page had a link to a PDF of the homilies preached by the priests.  The parish is staffed by a North American order of priests and I know the parochial vicar rather well, going back to his days as a young seminarian.  

While my friend is a good man and tries his best to be a good priest, he and I would regularly spar in matters of theology.  Even after 20 years, the divide is still very wide.

I do not know who preached this particular homily, delivered during the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2012.  That particular Good Shepherd Sunday fell on the Memorial of St. Catherine of Siena.  Part of me suspects it was my friend who preached this.  The style seems to fit.

He preached about the life of St. Catherine of Siena, telling the faithful about how, after much prayer and discernment, she served as a Papal counselor who vehemently urged the Pope (at the time) to leave Avignon and return to Rome.  Eventually, he heeded her counselor and returned to where he was supposed to be.  So far, so good.

The homilist then took a particularly bad turn when he brought up the issue of the fracas that is the Leadership Council of Women Religious.

Yes, my dear friend, what would St. Catherine do?  He listed a litany of things that St. Catherine had said:
She chastised and conjoled. She called the Pope Bobbo – Daddy. 
She called the Queen of Naples a sick woman guided by her passions. She wrote to a group of cardinals that they should be fragrant flowers but instead their stench filled the earth. 

Yes.  She spoke the Truth because she prayed before she uttered or wrote one word.  She spent time in front of the Blessed Sacrament seeking the Lord's counsel before she gave her own.  St. Catherine wanted her words to be Christ's words.

My dear friend meant to use St. Catherine as a means of chastising that "mean old Inquisition Office" for bringing the hammer down on the LCWR.  Yet, his very words and observations defeat his own purpose.

Given St. Catherine's deep love for Christ and His Church, I seriously doubt that she would have condoned the grievous actions and quasi-heretical theology that the LCWR has adopted in recent years.  Rather than come to their defense against the likes of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Gerhard Cardinal Muller, St. Catherine would have chastised the LCWR for "moving past Jesus and the Church." She would have upbraided them for not holding fast to the Truth of the Faith and sinking into near gnosticism with their adoption of "conscious evolution", or whatever the new theological trend is these days.

In Shakespeare's comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, Katherina refuses to yield to the authority of her husband, Petrucchio. Eventually, through a series of less than savory actions (some downright humiliating), he tames her into becoming an obedient bride.  Finally, in a strange twist towards the end of the play, Katherina, literally manhandles (for lack of a better word), her  very spoiled younger sister, Bianca, into submitting to her new husband.

At some point, the LCWR needs "taming".  They need to realize that they are heading in the wrong direction.  Contrary to the homilist's observation, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is not trying to beat these nuns into submission.  The homilist fails to realize that the very souls of these nuns are at stake.  When a group of women religious decides that they are moving beyond Christ and beyond the Church, they are willfully choosing to cut themselves from the vine.  The LCWR needs a "Katherina" to come in and have a frank discussion with them, maybe to the point of grabbing the group by the arm and showing them right path.

So, I return to the the homilist's question:  What would St. Catherine do?

St. Catherine would pray and spend significant time with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  Sometimes we do our  best thinking on our knees.  It certainly worked for Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  

After her time in prayer, St. Catherine would  probably encourage the LCWR to do the same thing, maybe even asking them to join her before the Blessed Sacrament.  She would then urge them to return to the roots of their calling, much as she urged Pope Gregory to man up and return to Rome, only she would have been more forceful with the nuns. Returning to Rome certainly takes on a deeper significance with the LCWR, because such a return is not about merely going back to a city as it is reconciling with Christ, with Peter and with the Church.

That is the real lesson of St. Catherine of Siena.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Rock writes about The STONE

While most could very well interpret today's readings to speak of Jesus' preparing a place for us, there appears to be a deeper meaning to what these scriptures say.  In one form or another, today's readings reference the Temple.

In his first letter, St. Peter tells the nascent Church that her members are "like living stones" that are being used to build up a spiritual house.  I found it interesting that the man whom Jesus called "rock" and upon whom He would build his Church would write about Christ the "living stone," the "cornerstone, chosen and precious," although "rejected by the builders."

For me, the above stained glass window captures the essence of what Jesus mandated when he established Peter's authority and of the Prince of the Apostle's first epistle.  Even though Jesus knew that St. Peter would deny Him, Christ was also well aware of the former fisherman's deep love. That love was rock solid.  It was that love that drove Peter to surreptitiously  follow Jesus from Gethsemane to the High Priest's house; but, it was fear that led him to deny his Master.

It is now that same love that compels and propels Peter to build up and encourage the young Church, fashioning these living stones into the new Temple.

At the Last Supper discourse, Jesus references the Temple.  Recall that in St. John's Gospel, as Jesus is clearing out the money changers who have profaned the Temple, He calls the sacred space His "Father's house."  He uses that same phrase in today's Gospel reading, taken from St. John's account:
2In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 
The Temple, God's dwelling on earth, was a huge complex with a plethora of rooms.  It was the place where Ancient Israel, and, eventually, the whole of humanity, could have an encounter with the Lord. The Court of the Gentiles was the largest space because it was designed to allow non-Jews the opportunity to render God worship.  The next smaller space was reserved for Ancient Israel and the final, most important space, was the Holy of Holies, reserved for the priest who offered sacrifices to God.

St. John, in Revelation, returns to that images of the Temple and the heavenly Jerusalem, as he writes of seeing the new Jerusalem coming down from Heaven like a bride.  When he describes the new Temple, John writes of the 12 foundations named after the 12 apostles.  The whole Temple was encrusted in precious jewels, seemingly harkening what St. Peter referenced in his epistle when he referred to the living stones used to build up the spiritual house.

In today's account from the Acts of the Apostles, we also see a veiled reference to the Temple.  Towards the very end, St. Luke tells us that "a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith."  These were the same priests who were offering the daily and weekly sacrifices in the Holy of Holies."  Now, they would be partaking of the real sacrifice, the Eucharistic Sacrifice.  They would be worshipping the Lord in "spirit and truth," just as Christ predicted to the Samaritan woman during their conversation at the well.

All of this boils down to worship.  The earthly liturgy gives us a foretaste of the heavenly reality that we will one day experience.  At the Last Supper, Jesus laid down the framework as to how he would be worshipped.  In today's Epistle, St. Peter, the Rock, reminds us that Christ is the cornerstone of the Church.  He is also the Master Architect, building His Church on the rock that is St. Peter and we are a part of the myriad of living stones that make up this spiritual house, with the Holy Spirit serving as the mortar that holds us all together.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tiring of the Bridegroom?

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the Lord used the imagery of the Bride and the Bridegroom to describe his relationship with humanity.  In Hosea, the Lord reminds Israel of the infidelity she had shown ever since the time that that God had freed her from slavery in Egypt.  She stayed from her Maker, engaging in worshipping false gods.  In Ezekiel, the Lord continues to chastise Israel for her repeated indiscretions, likening her to an unfaithful wife.

In St. John's Gospel, Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom.  St. John the Baptist uses the same word to describe the Lord.  Jesus uses this nuptial reference several times, most notably when he preaches the parable of the 10 wise virgins and the 10 foolish virgins who fall asleep waiting the arrival of the Bridegroom.  The 10 wise ones plan ahead, saving their oil, while the 10 foolish ones waste it.  When the Bridegroom finally comes, only the 10 wise ones are able to fully partake of the nuptial feast because they conserved what they had while the 10 foolish ones did not.

St. Paul also uses this nuptial imagery. Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church, as St. Paul observed, is the Bride.

In this day and age, we are presented with another nuptial imagery of Christ and the Bride; only in this case, the brides are the members of the Leadership Council of Women Religious, and the infractions, lamentably, are similar to those that Ancient Israel practiced in the times of Hosea and Ezekiel, and, to a huge extent, the actions of the 10 foolish virgins in Christ's parable.  It is almost as though these brides of Christ, who have been united to the Lord for several decades, have drifted away from their Divine Spouse and have wasted away the oil of gladness that He had given them when they were consecrated to Him. 

The LCRW continues its sparring match with the Holy See concerning the Doctrinal Assessment conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

His Eminence, Gerhard Cardinal Muller, Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, delivered a powerful address to the LCWR, admonishing the organization for its selection of a dissident theologian whose book on the Holy Trinity was censured by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

It saddens me to learn that you have decided to give the Outstanding Leadership Award during this year’s Assembly to a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian’s writings. This is a decision that will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment. Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the Bishops as well. 
I realize I am speaking rather bluntly about this, but I do so out of an awareness that there is no other interpretive lens, within and outside the Church, through which the decision to confer this honor will be viewed. It is my understanding that Archbishop Sartain was informed of the selection of the honoree only after the decision had been made. Had he been involved in the conversation as the Mandate envisions, I am confident that he would have added an important element to the discernment which then may have gone in a different direction. The decision taken by the LCWR during the ongoing implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment is indeed regrettable and demonstrates clearly the necessity of the Mandate’s provision that speakers and presenters at major programs will be subject to approval by the Delegate. I must therefore inform you that this provision is to be considered fully in force. I do understand that the selection of honorees results from a process, but this case suggests that the process is itself in need of reexamination. I also understand that plans for this year’s Assembly are already at a very advanced stage and I do not see the need to interrupt them. However, following the August Assembly, it will be the expectation of the Holy See that Archbishop Sartain have an active role in the discussion about invited speakers and honorees.

This is not the first time that the LCRW has had questionable speakers at its conference.  As Fr. John Zuhlsdorf noted in his blog, the organization invited a speaker who advocates "conscious evolution", something that is akin to the ancient heresy of gnosticism.   In the same aforementioned address, Cardinal Muller remained direct in his comments:

For the last several years, the Congregation has been following with increasing concern a focalizing of attention within the LCWR around the concept of Conscious Evolution. Since Barbara Marx Hubbard addressed the Assembly on this topic two years ago, every issue of your newsletter has discussed Conscious Evolution in some way. Issues of Occasional Papers have been devoted to it. We have even seen some religious Institutes modify their directional statements to incorporate concepts and undeveloped terms from Conscious Evolution. 
Again, I apologize if this seems blunt, but what I must say is too important to dress up in flowery language. The fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation and, when taken unreflectively, lead almost necessarily to fundamental errors regarding the omnipotence of God, the Incarnation of Christ, the reality of Original Sin, the necessity of salvation and the definitive nature of the salvific action of Christ in the Paschal Mystery. 
My concern is whether such an intense focus on new ideas such as Conscious Evolution has robbed religious of the ability truly to sentire cum Ecclesia. To phrase it as a question, do the many religious listening to addresses on this topic or reading expositions of it even hear the divergences from the Christian faith present? 
This concern is even deeper than the Doctrinal Assessment’s criticism of the LCWR for not providing a counter-point during presentations and Assemblies when speakers diverge from Church teaching. The Assessment is concerned with positive errors of doctrine seen in the light of the LCWR’s responsibility to support a vision of religious life in harmony with that of the Church and to promote a solid doctrinal basis for religious life. I am worried that the uncritical acceptance of things such as Conscious Evolution seemingly without any awareness that it offers a vision of God, the cosmos, and the human person divergent from or opposed to Revelation evidences that a de facto movement beyond the Church and sound Christian faith has already occurred.
I do not think I overstate the point when I say that the futuristic ideas advanced by the proponents of Conscious Evolution are not actually new. The Gnostic tradition is filled with similar affirmations and we have seen again and again in the history of the Church the tragic results of partaking of this bitter fruit. Conscious Evolution does not offer anything which will nourish religious life as a privileged and prophetic witness rooted in Christ revealing divine love to a wounded world. It does not present the treasure beyond price for which new generations of young women will leave all to follow Christ. The Gospel does! Selfless service to the poor and marginalized in the name of Jesus Christ does! 

He also took them to task because of some comments that had been made about moving beyond Jesus and beyond the Church.  I am no theologian by any means; however, I cannot wrap my head around a conscious statement that a professed religious, male or female, could make about going past Christ and His Church.  This gives the Protestant notion of being "left behind" a whole new and weird meaning.  Did these nuns not read Jesus' farewell discourage in St. John's Gospel account?

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.

Apart from Christ, we are nothing.  We cannot do anything, as He told His disciples.  When we were baptized, we were incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ.  Jesus founded the Church as the means for our salvation.  He entrusted the Church to St. Peter and his successors, entrusting Himself in the Holy Eucharist.  Moving beyond Christ and His Church is simply ludicrous.  While Cardinal Muller rightly reminds the LCRW that they run the risk of falling into gnosticism, I would add that they also expose themselves to the guiles of the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve into the sin of pride.  They seem to think that they know better than Christ and the Church.  The sad reality is that they do not.

The members of the LCRW seem to have taken the route that Ancient Israel took, drifting away from the Lord and seeking comfort in false theologies that are not only meaningless; they also place their souls in peril.  It is as though the women have let the oil of gladness run dry and have found a cheap substitute.

When a person or a group embarks on fuzzy theology, this leads into fuzzy liturgical practices.  If a person or group believes that the Faith of the Church can be compromised, then disrespect for Her liturgical rites cannot be far behind.  Even paraliturgical ceremonies can turn into a parody.

It's almost as thought the LCRW has really lost it on so many levels. Some many want to be liberated of the "constraints" placed on them by the Church; however, that is not how true freedom works.  True freedom, as Pope St. John Paul II reminds us, is not about doing as we wish, but, in doing as we ought.  Cardinal Muller and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are not trying to suppress these women; rather, they are reminding them of their true vocation.  

Women religious, for the most part, consider themselves Brides of Christ and they rightly are.  It seems to me that the LCWR has forgotten this.  It is as though they have tired of their Bridegroom and want something more.  Yet, when the Bridegroom is no less than Christ, Himself, who has given them everything, including His very self, what more could they want?  

This is the question that the LCRW should, in all honesty, be asking themselves.  

Guarding Liturgical Integrity

We often forget that the priest stands in Persona Christi when he celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  He makes the words of Christ his own when prays the words of Consecration:  "This is my Body; this is my Blood."

A local prelate recently gave a talk on the Priest as Victim, reminding his brethren in the priesthood of the importance of their vocation; but, he took this step further and offered them a catechesis on proper liturgy.

In his address, he also reminded them of the importance of their role in the liturgy, telling them that they are servants of the Eucharist.  Inasmuch as they stand in Persona Christi, they should maintain the integrity of the sacrifice that they are offering.  This reminds me of an address that the former Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith gave back in 2008 at the Gateway Liturgical Conference in St. Louis, Missouri.  

(T)he correct approach to ars celebrandi of priests and even of the faithful would be to insure that they allow Christ to take over at the altar, becoming the voice, the hands and the being of Christ, or the alter Christus. 
Sacramentum Caritatis affirms this very clearly when it states, “Priests should be conscious of the fact that in their ministry they must never put themselves or their personal opinions in the first place, but Jesus Christ. Any attempt to make themselves the center of the liturgical action contradicts their very identity as priests. The priest is above all a servant of others, and he must continuously work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord’s hands. This is seen particularly in his humility in leading the liturgical assembly, in obedience to the rite, uniting himself to it in mind and heart and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality” (Sacr. Carit. 23). 
In everything the priest does at the altar he should always let the Lord take control of his being. The words of John the Baptist are important in this matter: “He must increase and I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).

Lamentably, there are occasions when this does not occur.  Last Saturday evening, I went to my maternal ancestral parish.  The guest celebrant, who introduced himself as a professor of liturgy, took several liberties within the Mass that left me disconcerted.  When he could not find the Collect in the Roman Missal, he proceeded to make up his own.  He then added words here and there to the fixed texts of the Mass, something that is also forbidden in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and Redemptionis Sacramentum.  He also asked the faithful to hold hands during the recitation of the Pater Noster.

All of this made me wonder just what he is teaching the seminarians.  After Mass, I tried to charitably  bring the concerns up to him privately.  He dismissed me right away and said that I should be reading the words of Christ.  I told him that even Christ had high regard for the rubrics of Temple worship because these pointed directly to Him and were dictated by, no less than His own Father.  I also asked him if he had read any of the documents.  He rebuffed me and walked away.

Re-reading now-Cardinal Ranjinth's address in light of this episode and the address that the local prelate had given his brother priests made me think.  Why is is that some in the clergy do not see liturgical integrity as a matter of grave importance.  Again, let us turn to Cardinal Ranjith:

Obedience to Norms
As Pope John Paul II stated in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, “Liturgy is never anyone’s private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated”; and so “no one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands; it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality” (EE 52). 
Indeed, liturgy is a treasure given to the Church, which is to be jealously guarded. This is so also because it is the actio Christi realized in and through the Church, which is His own Body, in its three-fold extension — the Church Victorious, the Church Purifying and the Church Militant. 
Thus every liturgical act has a meta-cosmic extension. Besides, it is in and with the Church that Christ realizes His priestly office, making the liturgy profoundly ecclesial, in the sense of the whole Church. It is the whole Church which celebrates liturgy each time a priest does so with his own local community. 
Liturgy Is “Given”
Liturgy thus should be considered a treasure “given” to the Church, not created by it. The fact of the steady growth of liturgical traditions along its bi-millennial history, and the surprisingly harmonious and natural way in which it has happened, is proof of the work of the Holy Spirit and the surpassing nobility of its contents. It is like a tree, which continues to grow, at times shedding its leaves, at other times being pruned to become stronger and straighter, but always remaining the same tree. Sacred Liturgy has undergone a similar process of growth but never a new beginning, right from the earliest times even until now — and so it will be even in the future because it is Christ Himself who through His Mystical Body, the Church, has continued to exercise His priestly office. 
Christ, the Main Celebrant at the Altar
And so, the correct approach to ars celebrandi of priests and even of the faithful would be to insure that they allow Christ to take over at the altar, becoming the voice, the hands and the being of Christ, or the alter Christus.

These are the same points that the local prelate made.  The sad thing is that when the faithful begin to press their clergy to celebrate the Mass according to the norms, they get labeled as "liturgical police" or "Pharisees" when that is not the case at all.  

There was a reason why Pope St. John Paul II ordered the promulgation of Redemptionis Sacramentum, assigning both the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Francis Cardinal Arinze with the task of writing this important document.  The recently canonized John Paul lamented over the fact that shadows exist and continue to persist in the manner in which the Mass is celebrated.

As Redemeptionis Sacramentum notes:

[11.]  The Mystery of the Eucharist "is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured".27 On the contrary, anyone who acts thus by giving free rein to his own inclinations, even if he is a Priest, injures the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, which ought to be vigorously preserved,28 and becomes responsible for actions that are in no way consistent with the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people today. Nor do such actions serve authentic pastoral care or proper liturgical renewal; instead, they deprive Christ's faithful of their patrimony and their heritage. For arbitrary actions are not conducive to true renewal,29 but are detrimental to the right of Christ's faithful to a liturgical celebration that is an expression of the Church's life in accordance with her tradition and discipline. In the end, they introduce elements of distortion and disharmony into the very celebration of the Eucharist, which is oriented in its own lofty way and by its very nature to signifying and wondrously bringing about the communion of divine life and the unity of the People of God.30 The result is uncertainty in matters of doctrine, perplexity and scandal on the part of the People of God, and, almost as a necessary consequence, vigorous opposition, all of which greatly confuse and sadden many of Christ's faithful in this age of ours when Christian life is often particularly difficult on account of the inroads of "secularization" as well.31 
[12.] On the contrary, 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.32

What part of this teaching is lost on the visiting priest I encountered last weekend?  What part of this message is lost on clergy and laity alike who continue to treat the Sacred Liturgy as their own personal property?

While the obvious answer is that we need to pray for our priests, we also need to stand up for liturgical integrity and read the documents for ourselves.  Even Redemptionis Sacramentum encourages the faithful to charitably defend the liturgy.  Celebrants, whether they be priests or bishops, also need to read the documents.  It is only by working to ether that we can all ensure that the integrity of the Church's most sacred and most important treasure is guarded and maintained.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Finding the Real Presence of Christ

Today, the Church presents us with the account of Jesus' encounter with two of his disciples as they were leaving Jerusalem, heading towards Emmaus.

Cleopas, who, according to ancient Tradition, was the brother of St. Joseph and thus, Jesus' uncle, and his fellow disciple, were, for all intents and purposes, leaving the Cross and everything associated with it.  They were heading in the wrong direction, both literally and figuratively.

Suddenly, Jesus pops up out of nowhere and listens in on their conversation as the two disciples are recapping the weekend's events.  Oddly enough, they do not recognize him.  Not even His own uncle, Cleopas, recognizes Jesus.  Jesus asks them what they are discussing and Cleopas seems shocked that his fellow traveler seems to not know what all happened.  Jesus certainly knew it because he went through it.  Cleopas explains to his new companion just what had occurred.  He even goes on to say that some of the disciples, including the women, had gone to the tomb, but did not see Jesus.  Evidently, neither can Cleopas as Jesus is walking along right with him.

Jesus chastises them for their inability to understand the Scriptures.  He then proceeds to give them the best biblical exegesis of all time.  This experience leads Cleopas and his companion to beg their fellow sojourner to abide with them for the night, as it was getting late.  Jesus obliges and then, something remarkable happens.  He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and distributes it to them.  Then, he vanished.  It was at that point, that Cleopas realizes that he had just spent major time with his now resurrected Nephew.  His other companion is also ecstatic.  Then, both of them make a hasty return to Jerusalem, going back to the Cross.

The story of Cleopas and his companion and their encounter with Jesus should resonate with us.  What they experienced was, in essence, what we, as Catholics, experience every Sunday, every day:  an encounter with the resurrected Christ within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  At every Mass, we read from Sacred Scripture, the celebrant explains the readings in his homily and then, we go on to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, where Jesus ones again becomes fully present in the altar.  We return back to the moment of the Paschal Triduum, for his Passion, Death and Resurrection.  Then, after the Fraction Rite, we receive Christ's Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion.  We encounter Christ just as Cleopas and the other disciple. In fact, from Holy Thursday on, Jesus left us the means by which we were to encounter Him.  He told St. Mary Magdelene not to hold on to him anymore, as now, He would be fully present in the Eucharist.

The first mistake that Cleopas and his companion made was in fleeing Jerusalem and going to a place where they thought they would be safe, namely, a Roman garrison named Emmaus.  When we flee the Cross and everything that comes with us, when we flee suffering and choose not to hold on to Christ, we become, as Pope Benedict XVI rightly predicted, caught up in so many "winds of doctrine that the little boat of our faith begins to be tossed to and fro" in some sort of "dictatorship of relativism."  When we are not moored to the Rock of St. Peter and follow another course, we lose our way.  Cleopas and the other disciple were losing the way.  In Cleopas' case, this was rather remarkable, considering the fact that his Nephew was Christ.  He did not recognize just Who he was leaving and, subsequently, Who was coming after him.

On Twitter, Dr. Taylor Marshall wrote that he met up with two former Catholics who had left the Church and gone on to Joel Osteen's ecclesisal community.  He asked them why they left and they told him that the music and preaching were more attractive.  Marshall then asked them about the Eucharist, the Real Presence.  They told him that they had "communion service" with crackers and individual cups.  They said that they felt that they would be ingesting germs by receiving from the chalice.  Here, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains why the Eucharist is so important.  In Sacramentum Caritatis, he writes that:

"In the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord meets us, men and women created in God's image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:27) and becomes our companion along the way.  In this Sacrament, the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our hunger for truth and freedom.  Since only the truth can make us free (cf. Jn 8:32), Christ becomes for us the food of truth."

Their responses saddened me.  While Osteen seems to have a positive message, his only focus is on the false Gospel of Prosperity.  My fellow Catholics repost his messages on Facebook and he rarely proclaims Christ Crucified nor does he speak of heavenly realities.  His only concerns seems to be the here and now.  Insofar as music is concerned, what is offered at Lakeway is more along the lines of a sacro-pop concert with very little substance.  The two women in question have left behind the "food of truth" for something that, in the long run, is far from satisfying and offers no real nourishment.

Sadly, I have experienced this even within my own family.  I found out on Facebook that a couple of them left the Church and had their children (baptized Catholic) confirmed as Methodists.  This was very painful.  I still love my relatives, but, it saddens me that they would choose to leave the Church that Christ founded.  Two others have done the same thing.

It seems to me that for them, and for the two women that Marshall encountered, they want to flee the Cross.  Their idea pretty much matches what Osteen preaches:  no suffering and much prosperity.  But, this is not the message of the Gospel.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI notes:

"Christ did not promise an easy life.  Those who desire comforts have dialed the wrong number.  Rather, He shows us the way to great things, the good, towards an authentic human life. 
When He speaks of the cross that we ourselves have to carry, it has nothing to do with a taste of torture or of pedantic moralism.  It is the impulse of love, which has its own momentum and does not seek itself but opens the person to the service of truth, justice and the good.  Christ shows God to us, and thus the true greatness of man."  

Christ came to open up the way of salvation for us.  He came so that we could have eternal life.  He gives us His very Self as food for the journey.  How anyone could walk away from that is beyond me.  Cleopas and his companion did; but, Jesus, Good Shepherd that He is, goes after them and re-orients them to Jerusalem, to the Cross.

I can only pray that the Good Shepherd will seek out those two women and my relatives and bring them back to the true Faith, back to the Cross.  May they find comfort from the example of Cleopas and return from Emmaus.