Monday, 31 August 2009

On death, dying and healing

The subject of death and dying is much on my mind at the moment, so I thought it might be helpful to post a helpful instruction on healing prayers put out by theCongregation for the Doctrine of Faith :

"INTRODUCTION

The longing for happiness, deeply rooted in the human heart, has always been accompanied by a desire to be freed from illness and to be able to understand the meaning of sickness when it is experienced. This is a human phenomenon, which in some way concerns every person and finds particular resonance in the Church, where sickness is understood as a means of union with Christ and of spiritual purification. Moreover, for those who find themselves in the presence of a sick person, it is an occasion for the exercise of charity. But this is not all, because sickness, like other forms of human suffering, is a privileged moment for prayer, whether asking for grace, or for the ability to accept sickness in a spirit of faith and conformity to God's will, or also for asking for healing.

Prayer for the restoration of health is therefore part of the Church's experience in every age, including our own. What in some ways is new is the proliferation of prayer meetings, at times combined with liturgical celebrations, for the purpose of obtaining healing from God. In many cases, the occurrence of healings has been proclaimed, giving rise to the expectation of the same phenomenon in other such gatherings. In the same context, appeal is sometimes made to a claimed charism of healing.

These prayer meetings for obtaining healing present the question of their proper discernment from a liturgical perspective; this is the particular responsibility of the Church's authorities, who are to watch over and give appropriate norms for the proper functioning of liturgical celebrations.

It has seemed opportune, therefore, to publish an Instruction, in accordance with canon 34 of the Code of Canon Law, above all as a help to local Ordinaries so that the faithful may be better guided in this area, though promoting what is good and correcting what is to be avoided. It was necessary, however, that such disciplinary determinations be given their point of reference within a well-founded doctrinal framework, to ensure the correct approach and to make clear the reasoning behind the norms. To this end, it has been judged appropriate to preface the disciplinary part of the Instruction with a doctrinal note.

I. DOCTRINAL ASPECTS

1. Sickness and healing: their meaning and value in the economy of salvation

«People are called to joy. Nevertheless each day they experience many forms of suffering and pain.» (1) Therefore, the Lord, in his promises of redemption, announces the joy of the heart that comes from liberation from sufferings (cf. Is 30:29; 35:10; Bar 4:29). Indeed, he is the one «who delivers from every evil» (Wis 16:8). Among the different forms of suffering, those which accompany illness are continually present in human history. They are also the object of man's deep desire to be delivered from every evil.

In the Old Testament, «it is the experience of Israel that illness is mysteriously linked to sin and evil.» (2) Among the punishments threatened by God for the people's unfaithfulness, sickness has a prominent place (cf. Dt 28:21-22, 27-29, 35). The sick person who beseeches God for healing confesses to have been justly punished for his sins (cf. Ps 37; 40; 106:17-21).

Sickness, however, also strikes the just, and people wonder why. In the Book of Job, this question occupies many pages. «While it is true that suffering has meaning as punishment, when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment. The figure of the just man Job is a special proof of this in the Old Testament... And if the Lord consents to test Job with suffering, he does it to demonstrate the latter's righteousness. The suffering has the character of a test.» (3)

Although sickness may have positive consequences as a demonstration of the faithfulness of the just person, and for repairing the justice that is violated by sin, and also because it may cause a sinner to reform and set out on the way of conversion, it remains, however, an evil. For this reason, the prophet announces the future times in which there will be no more disease and infirmity, and the course of life will no longer be broken by death (cf. Is 35:5-6; 65: 19-20).

It is in the New Testament, however, that the question of why illness also afflicts the just finds a complete answer. In the public activity of Jesus, his encounters with the sick are not isolated, but continual. He healed many through miracles, so that miraculous healings characterised his activity: «Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness» (Mt 9:35; cf. 4:23). These healings are signs of his messianic mission (cf. Lk 7:20-23). They manifest the victory of the kingdom of God over every kind of evil, and become the symbol of the restoration to health of the whole human person, body and soul. They serve to demonstrate that Jesus has the power to forgive sins (cf. Mk 2:1-12); they are signs of the salvific goods, as is the healing of the paralytic of Bethesda (cf. Jn 5:2-9, 19-21) and the man born blind (cf. Jn 9).

The first preaching of the Gospel, as recounted in the New Testament, was accompanied by numerous miraculous healings that corroborated the power of the Gospel proclamation. This had been the promise of the Risen Jesus, and the first Christian communities witnessed its realization in their midst: «These signs will accompany those who believe: ...they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover» (Mk 16:17-18). The preaching of Philip in Samaria was accompanied by miraculous healings: «Philip went down to a city of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ to them. With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing. For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralysed and crippled people were cured» (Acts 8:5-7).

Saint Paul describes his own proclamation of the Gospel as characterized by signs and wonders worked by the power of the Holy Spirit: «For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to lead the Gentiles to obedience by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit» (Rom 15:18-19; cf. 1 Thes 1:5; 1 Cor 2:4-5). It would not be without foundation to suppose that these signs and wonders, manifestations of the power of God that accompanied the preaching of the Gospel, were constituted in large part by miraculous healings. Such wonders were not limited to St. Paul's ministry, but were also occurring among the faithful: «Does then the one who supplies the Spirit to you and works mighty deeds among you do so from works of the law or from faith in what you have heard preached?» (Gal 3:5).

The messianic victory over sickness, as over other human sufferings, does not happen only by its elimination through miraculous healing, but also through the voluntary and innocent suffering of Christ in his passion, which gives every person the ability to unite himself to the sufferings of the Lord. In fact, «Christ himself, though without sin, suffered in his passion pains and torments of every type, and made his own the sorrows of all men: thus he brought to fulfilment what had been written of him by the prophet Isaiah (cf. Is 53:4-5). (4)» But there is more: «In the cross of Christ not only is the redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed... In bringing about the redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the redemption. Thus each man in his suffering can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.» (5)

The Church welcomes the sick not only as the recipients of her loving care, but also by recognizing that they are called «to live their human and Christian vocation and to participate in the growth of the kingdom of God in a new and more valuable manner. The words of the Apostle Paul ought to become their approach to life or, better yet, cast an illumination to permit them to see the meaning of grace in their very situation: ‘In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church' (Col 1:24). Precisely in arriving at this realization, the Apostle is raised up in joy: ‘I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake' (Col 1:24). (6)» It is a paschal joy, fruit of the Holy Spirit, and, like Saint Paul, «in the same way many of the sick can become bearers of the ‘joy inspired by the Holy Spirit in much affliction' (1 Thess 1:6) and be witnesses to Jesus' resurrection.» (7)

2. The desire for healing and prayer to obtain it

Presuming the acceptance of God's will, the sick person's desire for healing is both good and deeply human, especially when it takes the form of a trusting prayer addressed to God. Sirach exhorts his disciple: «My son, when you are ill, delay not, but pray to God, who will heal you» (Sir 38:9). A number of the Psalms also ask for healing (cf. Ps 6; 37; 40; 87).

Large numbers of the sick approached Jesus during his public ministry, either directly or through friends and relatives, seeking the restoration of health. The Lord welcomes their requests and the Gospels contain not even a hint of reproach for these prayers. The Lord's only complaint is about their possible lack of faith: «If you can! Everything is possible to one who has faith» (Mk 9:23; cf. Mk 6:5-6; Jn 4:48).

Not only is it praiseworthy for individual members of the faithful to ask for healing for themselves and for others, but the Church herself asks the Lord for the health of the sick in her liturgy. Above all, there is the sacrament «especially intended to strengthen those who are being tried by illness, the Anointing of the Sick.»(8) «The Church has never ceased to celebrate this sacrament for its members by the anointing and the prayer of its priests, commending those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them.»(9) Immediately before the actual anointing takes place, in the blessing of the oil, the Church prays: «Make this oil a remedy for all who are anointed with it; heal them in body, in soul, and in spirit, and deliver them from every affliction»(10) and then, in the first two prayers after the anointing, the healing of the sick person is requested.(11) Since the sacrament is a pledge and promise of the future kingdom, it is also a proclamation of the resurrection, when « there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, because the old order has passed away» (Rev 21:4). Furthermore, the Roman Missal contains a Mass pro infirmis in which, in addition to spiritual graces, the health of the sick is requested.(12)

In the De benedictionibus of the Rituale Romanum, there is an Ordo benedictionis infirmorum, in which there are various prayers for healing: in the second formulary of the Preces (13), in the four Orationes benedictionis pro adultis (14), in the two Orationes benedictionis pro pueris (15), and in the prayer of the Ritus brevior (16).
Obviously, recourse to prayer does not exclude, but rather encourages the use of effective natural means for preserving and restoring health, as well as leading the Church's sons and daughters to care for the sick, to assist them in body and spirit, and to seek to cure disease. Indeed, «part of the plan laid out in God's providence is that we should fight strenuously against all sickness and carefully seek the blessings of good health...»(17)

3. The «charism of healing» in the New Testament

Not only did wondrous healings confirm the power of the Gospel proclamation in Apostolic times, but the New Testament refers also to Jesus' real and proper transmission of the power to heal illnesses to his Apostles and to the first preachers of the Gospel. In the call of the Twelve to their first mission, according to the accounts of Matthew and Luke, the Lord gave them «the power to drive out unclean spirits and to cure every disease and illness» (Mt 10:1; cf. Lk 9:1), and commanded them: «Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons» (Mt 10:8). In sending out the seventy-two disciples, the Lord charges them: «cure the sick» (Lk 10:9). The power to heal, therefore, is given within a missionary context, not for their own exaltation, but to confirm their mission.

The Acts of the Apostles refers in general to the wonders worked by them: «many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles» (Acts 2:43; cf. 5:12). These were amazing deeds that manifested the truth and the power of their mission. However, apart from these brief general references, the Acts of the Apostles refers above all to the miraculous healings worked by individual preachers of the Gospel: Stephen (cf. Acts 6:8), Philip (cf. Acts 8:6-7), and, above all, Peter (cf. Acts 3:1-10; 5:15; 9:33-34, 40-41) and Paul (cf. Acts 14:3, 8-10; 15:12; 19: 11-12; 20:9-10; 28: 8-9).

In the conclusion to the Gospel of Mark, as well as in the Letter to the Galatians, as seen above, the perspective is broadened. The wondrous healings are not limited to the activity of the Apostles and certain of the central figures in the first preaching of the Gospel. In this perspective, the references to the «charisms of healing» in 1 Cor 12:9, 28,30 acquire special importance. The meaning of charism is per se quite broad – «a generous gift» – and in this context it refers to «gifts of healing obtained.» These graces, in the plural, are attributed to an individual (cf. 1 Cor 12:9), and are not, therefore, to be understood in a distributive sense, as the gifts of healing received by those who themselves have been healed, but rather as a gift granted to a person to obtain graces of healing for others. This is given in uno Spiritu, but nothing is specified about how that person obtains these healings. It would not be farfetched to think that it happens by means of prayer, perhaps accompanied by some symbolic gesture.

In the Letter of James, reference is made to the Church's action, by means of the priests, directed toward the salvation – in a physical sense as well – of the sick. But this is not to be understood as a wondrous healing; it is different from the «charisms of healing» of 1 Cor 12:9. «Is anyone sick among you? He should call for the priests of the Church and have them pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and the prayer of faith will save the sick person and will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven» (Jas 5:14-15). This refers to a sacramental action: anointing of the sick with oil and prayer «over him» and not simply «for him,» as if it were only a prayer of intercession or petition; it is rather an efficacious action on the sick person.(18) The verbs «will save» and «will raise up» do not suggest an action aimed exclusively or predominantly at physical healing, but in a certain way include it. The first verb, even though the other times it appears in the Letter of James it refers to spiritual salvation (cf. 1:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:20), is also used in the New Testament in the sense of «to heal» (cf. Mt 9:21; Mk 5:28, 34; 6:56; 10:52; Lk 8:48); the second, while having at times the sense of «to rise» (cf. Mt 10:8; 11:5; 14:2), is also used to indicate the action of «raising up» a person who is lying down because of illness, by healing the person in a wondrous fashion (cf. Mt 9:5; Mk 1:31; 9:27; Acts 3:7).

4. Prayers to obtain healing from God in the Church's tradition.

The Fathers of the Church considered it normal that believers would ask God not only for the health of their soul, but also for that of their body. With regard to the goods of life, health, and physical integrity, St. Augustine writes: «We need to pray that these are retained, when we have them, and that they are increased, when we do not have them.»(19) St. Augustine has also left us the testimony of a friend's healing, obtained through the prayers of a Bishop, a priest, and some deacons in his house.(20)

The same perspective is found in both the Eastern and Western liturgical rites. One of the post Communion prayers of the Roman Missal asks «...may the power of this heavenly gift take hold of our minds and bodies.»(21) In the liturgy of Good Friday, Christians are invited to pray to God the Father Almighty that he «may keep diseases away... and grant health to the sick.»(22) Among the texts that are most significant is that of the blessing of the oil of the sick, in which God is asked to pour forth his holy blessing so that all «those who are anointed with it may receive healing, in body, soul and spirit, and be delivered from all sadness, all weakness and suffering.»(23)

The expressions used in the prayers of the anointing of the sick in the Eastern Rites are very similar. For example, in the anointing of the sick in the Byzantine Rite, there is the prayer: «Holy Father, doctor of souls and bodies, you who sent your only begotten Son Jesus Christ to cure every sickness and to free us from death, heal also your servant from the infirmity of body and spirit that afflicts him, by the grace of your Christ.»(24) In the Coptic Rite, the Lord is invoked to bless the oil so that all who will be anointed with it will obtain health of spirit and body. Then, during the anointing of the sick person, the priests make mention of Jesus Christ who was sent into the world «to heal all sicknesses and to free from death» and ask God «to heal the sick person of the infirmities of body and to grant him the right path.»(25)

5. The «charism of healing» in the present-day contest

In the course of the Church's history there have been holy miracle-workers who have performed wondrous healings. The phenomenon was not limited to the Apostolic period; however, the so-called «charism of healing,» about which it seems appropriate to offer some doctrinal clarifications, does not fall within these phenomena of wonder-working. Instead, the present question concerns special prayer meetings organized for the purpose of obtaining wondrous healings among the sick who are present, or prayers of healing after Eucharistic communion for this same purpose.

There is abundant witness throughout the Church's history to healings connected with places of prayer (sanctuaries, in the presence of the relics of martyrs or other saints, etc.). In Antiquity and the Middle Age, such healings contributed to the popularity of pilgrimages to certain sanctuaries, such as that of St. Martin of Tours or the Cathedral of St. James in Compostela, as well as many others. The same also happens today at Lourdes, as it has for more than a century. Such healings, however, do not imply a «charism of healing,» because they are not connected with a person who has such a charism, but they need to be taken into account when we evaluate the above-mentioned prayer meetings from a doctrinal perspective.

With respect to prayer meetings for obtaining healing, an aim which even if not exclusive is at least influential in their planning, it is appropriate to distinguish between meetings connected to a «charism of healing,» whether real or apparent, and those without such a connection. A possible «charism of healing» can be attributed when the intervention of a specific person or persons, or a specific category of persons (for example, the directors of the group that promotes the meetings) is viewed as determinative for the efficacy of the prayer. If there is no connection with any «charism of healing,» then the celebrations provided in the liturgical books, if they are done with respect for liturgical norms, are obviously licit and often appropriate, as in the case of a Mass pro infirmis. If the celebrations do not respect liturgical law, they lack legitimacy.

In sanctuaries, other celebrations are held frequently which may not be aimed per se at specifically asking God for graces of healing, but in which, in the intentions of the organizers and participants, the obtaining of healing has an important part. With this purpose in mind, both liturgical and non-liturgical services are held: liturgical celebrations (such as exposition of the Blessed Sacrament with Benediction) and non-liturgical expressions of popular piety encouraged by the Church (such as the solemn recitation of the Rosary).

These celebrations are legitimate, as long as their authentic sense is not altered. For example, one could not place on the primary level the desire to obtain the healing of the sick, in a way which might cause Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to lose its specific finality, which is to «bring the faithful to recognize in the Eucharist the wonderful presence of Christ and to invite them to a spiritual union with him, a union which finds its culmination in sacramental Communion.»(26)

The «charism of healing» is not attributable to a specific class of faithful. It is quite clear that St. Paul, when referring to various charisms in 1 Corinthians 12, does not attribute the gift of «charisms of healing» to a particular group, whether apostles, prophets, teachers, those who govern, or any other. The logic which governs the distribution of such gifts is quite different: «All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who distributes to each one individually just as the Spirit choses» (1 Cor 12:11). Consequently, in prayer meetings organized for asking for healing, it would be completely arbitrary to attribute a «charism of healing» to any category of participants, for example, to the directors of the group; the only thing to do is to entrust oneself to the free decision of the Holy Spirit, who grants to some a special charism of healing in order to show the power of the grace of the Risen Christ. Yet not even the most intense prayer obtains the healing of all sicknesses. So it is that St. Paul had to learn from the Lord that «my grace is enough for you; my power is made perfect in weakness» (2 Cor 12:9), and that the meaning of the experience of suffering can be that «in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church» (Col 1:24).

Recovering spiritual practices: Indulgences

Indulgences are one of those important spiritual practices that are making something of a comeback, so it's worth a reminder of some of the indulgences you can gain, particularly the special one for year of the priest on Thursday.

What is an indulgence?

Indulgences, you will recall, wipe out the temporal punishment for sins that have already been forgiven. The indulgence can be partial (some of the punishment) or plenary (all of it).

Most importantly (you only need one plenary indulgence for yourself after all, at least until you commit your next major sin!), they can be applied to the souls in purgatory.

These days, you can only collect one plenary indulgence a day - but you can accumulate several partial ones.

To gain a plenary indulgence

To gain a plenary indulgence where one is offered, you need to:
  • have an intention to gain the indulgence (adding a line to your morning prayers saying 'and I intend to gain all the indulgences I can' seems to be sufficient, at least for partial indulgences);

  • be in a state of grace and in full communion with Rome at the time the work is undertaken;

  • have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin;

  • have sacramentally confessed your sins within several days before or after the work (one confession will suffice for several days worth of indulgences!);

  • receive the Holy Eucharist (it is certainly better to receive it while participating in Holy Mass, but for the indulgence only Holy Communion is required);

  • pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff (remember that you are not praying for the Pope, but for the specific prayer intentions he announces each month). Usually an Our Father and a Hail Mary is said.

A partial indulgence requires one to be to be in a state of grace at the time of the work and have at least the general intention of gaining it.

The Year if the Priest Indulgence on the first Thursday

"All truly penitent Christian faithful who, in church or oratory, devotedly attend Holy Mass and offer prayers to Jesus Christ, supreme and eternal Priest, for the priests of the Church, or perform any good work to sanctify and mould them to His Heart, are granted Plenary Indulgence, on the condition that they have expiated their sins through Sacramental Confession and prayed in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff."

And don't forget that in this Year of the Priest a partial indulgence is available every day by praying five Our Fathers, Ave Marias and Gloria Patris, or any other duly approved prayer "in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to ask that priests maintain purity and sanctity of life".

Other plenary indulgences

There are a few other fully indulgenced works that can be gained every day (remembering that you can only gain one plenary indulgnece a day) and that are also worth considering adding to your regime on a regular basis:

  • rosary recited in a Church by a family or pious association;

  • half an hour's adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; and

  • devout reading of Scripture for at least half an hour.
So go to it, and access the spiritual treasury of the Church for the souls in purgatory!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

On becoming a real parish....

One of the great challenges for the traditionalist community is transitioning from the struggle just to have a mass one can go to that is genuinely uplifting (and removes the danger of the cringe or outrage factor), to focus on how to create a genuine community with a full liturgical and devotional life.

It's not a case of back to the 1950s

Part of the problem is that we don't really want to recreate the 1950s here - Catholic culture in Australia in that period largely reflected a the culture of a persecuted minority due to strong Irish influence, with the dire effects chronicled for the US in Thomas Day's famous book Why Catholics Can't Sing.

So we need to look to both older and newer models. In many ways, it seems to me that we should be trying to create mini-Christendoms to help catholics resist the sea of secularism that surrounds us, and provide bases from which we can work to re-evangelize our country, as medieval monasteries did. And in fact, many of the practices of medieval society have already been revived (albeit in distorted and attenuated forms) by charismatic and protestant communities - and so we shouldn't be afraid to reclaim the ones that work for ourselves!

Avoiding ghettoism

The challenge is to create genuine communities while avoiding ghettoism. Fully
TLM communities/parishes need to be seen to be part of the wider life of their dioceses without the need to compromise on their choice of liturgy or perspectives.

The best way of achieving this, it seems to me, is for us to encourage ordinary parishes to have TLMs, with fully TLM communities serving as a reference point and source of expertise. And on this subject, Cath Con has reproduced an interesting piece on the importance of reintegrating the TLM into ordinary parishes. Here are some key extracts.

It beings with a thank you to the Pope:

"First of all we would like to thank you for the teaching which you have lavished on us, in audiences, homilies, letters and encyclicals that for many years now have been accompanying our spiritual growth. This has been of great benefit to us, and we believe to the whole Church, especially in these times of big “crisis”.

Indeed your teaching represents liberation from the spiritual horrors of modern times, a true refuge and a good relief for the soul after having been indoctrinated by such an amount of false sagacity and personal interpretations, elevated to false dogmas.

Thanks to you, people are beginning to find some relief and solutions to the spiritual malaise which for many years has been hanging over the Church and which we had felt sorrowfully. A malaise which was due to a confusion and inability to separate between truth and falsehood, between what is just and what is erroneous, more and more difficult to distinguish and to perceive, even for the pastors themselves."

Parish life

"However, we wish to inform you of something which lies in our hearts, and which we have experienced after the 7th of July of 2007, in the simple ordinary life of a parish.

In particular, we would like to bring to your knowledge what has become of our lives, as has become the lives of many others, after the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Thanks to this and to the liturgical sensibility of your Holiness [which is near to the heart of those, like us, who do not see anything “evil” in the liturgical expression of the Faith which has given spiritual nourishment to so many Saints in the passing centuries] we had obtained, even by so many sacrifices, sufferings and humiliations imposed on us by our Bishop, the celebration of the Holy Mass of all Ages, in an oratory outside of our parish. The joy of discovering the Holy Mass, loved by our parents and which we thought was lost forever, has somewhat made up for the big disappointment in noting that this sacred liturgy has not found any place within our so much-loved parochial community....

In the article 5 § 1 of your Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, your Holiness gives a great gift to the whole church, when you reaffirm the importance and central position of the parish and of the parochial community. This unity is formed and comes into existence by way of the liturgy, for which there has for many years been a demand that the justice sees to it that it is shown.

The liturgical tradition has for almost twenty centuries shown with clarity that it has not been “excommunicated”, but always has been valid, legal, legitimate and sanctifying. Summorum Pontificum has indeed been a great act of justice.

The extraordinary riches of this document reside, we believe, in the fact that the Mass has finally returned to the parochial life of every day and is no longer relegated only to the hands of private persons and associations, to whom most certainly we owe the merit of having conserved this treasure.

True tradition lies not only in words and gestures that were codified in the antiquity and then during centuries handed over by the Church.

Tradition is also the bond of one’s own blood with one’s own land. The roots that sink down in one’s own community, that is where one truly experiences the mystical meaning of the tradition: not a law or a rite, but a communion in the spirits who, united and living, not even death has had the power to pull apart.

In the parish our ancestors, our parents and our descendants are all united spiritually with us, like one people, living and gathered together in front of the sacrifice of Christ. That is the meaning which we give to the notion “local church”. It is with great sorrow that we discover the tragic choice that has been imposed upon us: to choose our roots to be maintained but (at the price of the) humiliation of our liturgical sensibility, or else to nourish this sensibility by uprooting our bond to the parish, and forcing us to become fugitives, exiled, relegated in chapels, without a parish, without true peace of mind.

Mass centres vs communities

Often these chapels become “mass centres”, gathering persons from many parts of the region, all on the run from their respective parishes. However, they do not have any possibility to sanctify themselves there, neither in the parish, the place where this should manifest itself.

This exclusion from the life of the community and the parish is a true “ghettoization” and moreover the real cause of the division, which we did not wish to happen but had to endure!

It is almost as if Tradition was an infectious disease of which one must keep clear in order to avoid getting into contact with any still unaffected Catholics. How great is our wish to participate in the Holy Mass of all Ages, celebrated in our own parish by our own parish priest, in the same way in which we attend the Holy Mass in its sacred Ordinary form!

Persecution

...As a consequence of our fidelity to Your Holiness and to Christ we are being made to feel as lepers, kept at a due distance and being abused!

There are moments when the parish priests, with their continued accusation, critics and calumnies, make us feel as outsiders in the parochial community and even outsiders of the Church. If we would not participate in the Mass of all Ages, those persons would certainly not reprimand us in this wicked way.

The result is that NOW, thanks to these continuous and subtle persecutions, we feel, in spite of ourselves, that it is WE who are far from the Church. With aching pain we feel that our mother, the Church, has expelled us, turned her back against us, and humiliated us. The void this makes us feel is terrible! In other words, the distress that we feel when noting that many priests and many bishops interpret (our) Catholic faith and (our) divine liturgy, which is the final expression of that faith, as not being in “continuity” with its millenary tradition (something which Your Holiness has explained more than once), but in open and incurable “discontinuity”.

Thereby they are really making of us a banner to be shown defiantly to the world.

It is terrible to learn each day, in a tangible way, that in the same Church it is impossible to have the freedom to fully adhere to all what the Magisterium teaches us, without being subject to a snorting and a condescending attitude!

This is completely absurd. We are only Catholics, sons and daughters of the Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church, obedient to the Vicar of Christ and to his laws, faithful to his teaching and desirous to participate in the same Sacrifice of Christ that materializes in the ordinary, modern, form as well as in the extraordinary and older form of the one and only Catholic Mass (of the Roman Rite -- CAP).

We feel as if we had been left alone, at the mercy of people who hate us. When the Motu Proprio was promulgated, its implementation was constantly being obstructed, in some cases even arbitrarily hindered, with intimidations, arrogance, defamation, retaliations, either against us laymen or above all against the priests who would like to offer this mass to the People of God.

No really effective measures have been taken, in order that our Catholic Church ensures the peaceful cohabitation of the two forms of the same Sacrifice, with reciprocal enrichment.

Instead of receiving this torrent of insults and humiliations from Christians and also from the same pastors, who ought to excel in their obedience towards you, we prefer to almost go back into the catacombs, where the Christians were real brothers, and the enemies, on the other hand, could be easily identified. The Church of that time, humiliated and hidden as it was, still seemed more united and faithful than the one we see in our days, torn to pieces in its interior by various currents, factions, religious or non-religious interpreters, heretics, independent and fanciful malevolent people.

Judging from the continued testimonies which we receive on our webbsite for many months now, we may be sure that what we are experiencing is not an isolated case. We have chosen to make public our letter of concern, which we in humility have chosen to address to you, in order to gather in the same spirit the invocations and sufferings from many other Catholics finding themselves in the same conditions as us, having endured the same vexations and humiliations.

Integration of the TLM into parishes

We would like you to know the reality. In the same way, we would also like the faithful, who do not know the traditional liturgy of the Church, realize that as matters stand today, there is a problem regarding peaceful cohabitation inside the universal Church, and this for sure is not the fault of those who love the Tradition. We ask you with all our heart, Your Holiness, to take the appropriate measures, which only you are in a position to take, in order to see to it that the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum becomes applied in every parish.

With your permission, Your Holiness, (we ask you) if you could help us, in a natural and simple way, without unnecessary discrimination, to obtain those fruits of sanctification in our parochial community. Please permit the faithful to really be able to chose, without having to meet with repercussions, humiliations and heavy burdens.

We are sure that we are joined in this request also by our brothers in Italy and in the world, experiencing the same affliction, but sometimes not having the possibility to express their discomfort. We ask it of you in the name of HISTORY and also in the name of future generations, as well as in the name of the true unity of our Church.

WE BEG YOU, HOLY FATHER, DO NOT LEAVE US ALONE! We pray that the Holy Spirit, with the intercession of Blessed Virgin Mary the Immaculate, keep you in good health and give you strength and courage to ever more efficiently guide the Church, helping us to celebrate the Mass according to the Traditional Liturgy in our parishes.

The 1st of July 2009, on the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, with the expression of our high esteem and respect, we remain, Your Holiness,
your most devoted servants in Christ,

Paolo and Giovanni
Gandolfo Lambruschini

Many thanks for the translation to Natasja Hoven of Katolsk Observator, with some editing by Rorate. The remaining rough edges in some places will be edited shortly.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 15, 2009"

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Geoffrey Tozer RIP

The Sydney Morning Herald offers the following obituary:

Geoffrey Tozer, 1954-2009

GEOFFREY TOZER was 13 years old when the legendary headmaster of Geelong Grammar School, James Darling, advised him: ''You're wasting your time at school''.

Although Tozer was not a Grammarian, the sage had taken the boy under his wing after hearing him play in concert. He told him: ''What you really need to do is read, play the piano and meet famous people. Get out of Australia as fast as you can. Go and grow.''

Tozer, a child prodigy who would become one of Australia's most internationally acclaimed and recorded concert pianists, had made his professional debut at the age of eight, dressed in velvet shorts, playing Bach's Concerto in F Minor with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

A year after Darling offered the advice, Tozer became the youngest recipient of a Churchill Fellowship, which took him to London. The next year he was a semi-finalist in an international piano competition in Leeds. At 15, he made his international debut at the Royal Albert Hall in London, performing Mozart's Concerto No 15 with Colin Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Tozer, who has died, aged 54, of liver failure at his Melbourne home, went on to extensively tour Europe, the US, Asia and Australia. In 2004 he marked his 40th anniversary in the business with 40 concerts. His recordings covered composers from Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, to Stravinsky, Ireland, Brahms, Bach, Schumann, Haydn, Beethoven, Liszt and Mozart. And he reintroduced international audiences to the works of the Russian Nikoli Medtner.

Geoffrey Peter Bede Hawkshaw Tozer was born in Mussoorie, a hill station in northern India, to Veronica Tozer and Geoffrey Conan-Davies, an Anglican minister. His mother had separated from her husband, an army colonel, by the time she arrived in Melbourne in 1958 with Geoffrey and his older brother, Peter.

He is thought to have showed an interest in music while still in his pram, aged six months, when his mother played Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony on the family's wind-up gramophone. He was soon taking records such as Benjamin Britten's Rape of Lucretia, rather than teddy bears, to bed. If one broke, he would cry like the baby he was and put all the pieces under his pillow.

At five years he astounded an audience at St Kilda Town Hall with flawless playing of Bach and Bartok. Besides, he was reciting passages from Oscar Wilde's fairy stories at three years, reading Homer at seven and, by 10, Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw.

Tozer auditioned successfully at the ABC at eight years, after which mother and son walked the six kilometres home. By the age of 12 he had played five Beethoven piano concerts with the MSO.

His early education was at a convent school and then with the Christian Brothers. His mother switched him to De La Salle College when canings began bruising his hands, affecting his violin and piano lessons. He gave up the violin after five years to concentrate on piano. His piano lessons came from his mother, a music teacher, and private teachers such as Eileen Ralf in Hobart, Maria Curcio and Theodore Tettvi.

Tozer pigeonholed his concert career to graduate from the London Opera Centre (1979-80) and work as a repetiteur at the centre and at Glyndebourne. He then taught at the University of Michigan in 1981-82 before returning to Australia.

His many triumphs included a bravura performance of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas in 16 hours, spread across seven concerts over 11 nights in 1994 in Melbourne. He played with the Berlin and Moscow symphony orchestras, but his biggest audience was in May 2001, when an estimated 80 million Chinese watched him live on television playing the Yellow River Concerto. He made several tours of China.

Geoffrey Tozer's illustrious career was not without controversy. He became a favourite of Paul Keating, the former prime minister, who, as treasurer in 1989, introduced creative fellowships after meeting Tozer, then the music teacher at the Canberra school where Keating's son, Patrick, was a student.

Keating, who believes that Tozer was Australia's greatest pianist, said he felt ''ashamed'' that a pianist of his talents was earning only $9000 a year. He introduced what became known as the Keatings and the first five-year award in 1989 ($329,000) went to Tozer.

When the pianist was awarded a second fellowship in 1994 ($219,098), there was an outcry led by the Opposition protesting that, with so many worthy figures in the arts community, it was outrageous that Keating's close friend was selected a second time. Tozer's supporters say there is nothing unusual in dual fellowships. Tozer himself had followed up his first Churchill fellowship at the age of 14 with a second at 17. He was also twice awarded Israel's Rubenstein Medal, in 1977 and 1980.

Keating had already paved the way for a Canberra enterprise to make Tozer's first Australian recordings, and he promoted the pianist's talents to London-based classical music giant Chandos. He was vindicated when the Chandos recordings won rapturous reviews in Europe, with further success in the US.

He was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1992 for his recording of the three Medtner piano concertos with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The recording won a Diapason d'Or prize that year.

Tozer later attracted local criticism when he said he would have to pursue his career in London because Melbourne was a ''remote, provincial city'' and Australia had an indifference to the arts generally. He later said he had been caught in a moment of exasperation on a 40 degree day and that there was no question that Melbourne was ''home''.

His other awards included Hungary's Liszt Centenary Medallion, Belgium's Prix Alex De Varies and Britain's Royal Overseas League Medallion. He was never so honoured at home.

Geoffrey Tozer enjoyed the ballet and photography and liked to relax by going for long walks. He is survived by four of his five siblings - Peter, Tim, Meredith and Bliss."

Please pray for the repose of his soul.

Opposition to the TLM waning?

A survey conducted by the US Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate has found that opposition to the return of the Traditional Mass has dropped dramatically since 1985.

According to the survey, the majority of catholics (63%) have no view one way or another on the subject, and 12% oppose its return. By contrast, back in 1985 a Gallup Poll found that opinions were much more polarised, with 25% opposed its return and only 35% with no opinion.

The really intriguing part of the results are the demographics of support and opposition to the Mass.

Unsurprisingly, practicing Catholics (attend Mass weekly) were far more likely (33%) to support the return of the TLM. But among this group opposition was quite strong too - 20% were opposed, dropping to 13% among less than weekly but at least monthly attenders (with 29% of the latter group in support).

The results by age were also interesting - the Tabletistas/Acatholicas are heavily concentrated among those born before 1943 (24% oppose), with support for the return of the mass highest (32%) and opposition lowest (13%) in the 'Vatican II' generation (born before 1961). Those in the 'post-Vatican II' and Millenial generations were most likely to have no opinion one way or the other (72 and 78% respectively).

These are US results of course and may not be replicated in Australia. Still they suggest there is scope to do a bit of marketing to a younger age group unaffected by the polemics of the past on this subject...

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

How do you attract vocations?

For many years now we've been told that everyone has a vocation.

The notion of vocation

Its true in a sense, but failing to differentiate between 'special' or 'higher' vocations (Pope John Paul II's words) to the priesthood and religious life, and everyone's call to holiness doesn't acknowledge the real sacrifices involved in those callings, and thus reduces the willingness of people to make those sacrifices.

We've clericalized the laity through the institution of Extraordinary Ministers etc, and secularized the priesthood and religious (for example by failure to wear clerical or religous garb, reducing the prayer regime, and abandonment of a commitment to asceticism), and in doing so undermined the specificness of the 'vocations' of all.

We've been told that all states of life are equally important - something that is clearly not true, since without a priest there are no sacraments and thus no Church, and without religious the Church loses its eschatological orientation.

The result has been a dearth of vocations and loss of sense of identity in the Church.

The missionary impulse

So how to rebuild?

Well many successful dioceses have reverted to the tried and true historical path, and called on the missionary impulse inherent in vibrant young churches (such as those flourishing dioceses in Africa and Asia) to help re-evangelize Australia. They've gone back to tradition more generally - and it has worked.

Some Australian dioceses - such as Wagga Wagga, Perth and Lismore are having considerable success in attracting both overseas and local candidates to ensure that Australians can continue to access the sacraments, and thus laying the necessary foundations for a "New Evangelization" (re-evangelization).

Not everyone however is convinced by the evidence of what works it seems, as The Record reports on Adelaide:

Adelaide's "vocation culture"

By Anthony Barich

"The Archdiocese of Adelaide aims to promote the priesthood and the permanent diaconate within a new “culture of vocations” to save itself from an impending lack of priests. A number of parishes in the archdiocese have already merged, and the concept of promoting a vocations culture, the brainchild of Archbishop Philip Wilson, has been “in gestation” for two years. Adelaide currently has two permanent deacons and two more who have nearly finished their training at the Adelaide College of Divinity, an inter-denominational institute used by Flinders University and comprising Catholic Theological College, St Barnabas’ Anglican Theological College and Parkin-Wesley College of the Uniting Church.

The development of the concept of promoting the priesthood within a ‘vocations culture’ coincides with the Archbishop’s Leap Ahead Project, which seeks consultation to address “major issues” facing the archdiocese over the next 10 years, including the looming priest shortage as many are due to retire soon due to old age or illness, or both. The diocese’s acting vocations director Fr Mark Sexton, who at age 50 is the last graduate of its St Francis Xavier Seminary that closed in 2000, said the plan to focus on local vocations would steer clear of scouting priests from overseas, as doing so would “deprive other countries of priests and the sacraments”.

If men from other countries ask the Adelaide archdiocese if they can study for the priesthood for South Australia, Fr Sexton said they would be asked to first enquire into their own diocese.“Priesthood is part of a culture of vocations, and we need to build it across the whole community. If we can get people thinking in terms of living their vocation as a mother, parent, teacher, etc, and if the younger ones hear people using those words unreservedly, they’re more likely to think ‘what’s my vocation, maybe I’m called to Religious life, or the priesthood,” he said.

He said the current perception is that ‘vocations’ only relates to priests and Religious, which must be changed if vocations to the priesthood are to rise.

Four men are currently in training for Adelaide – three at Corpus Christi College in Melbourne and one in Rome...."

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Our bishops and their cathedrals...


New Liturgical Movement had a piece a week or so back on the renovations going on in several Australian cathedrals that is well worth a read. Its central point is that at the very time that Pope Benedict XVI is promoting a "reform of the reform", our Australian bishops are redesigning their cathedrals in ways totally inconsistent with the return to tradition.

Sydney and Canberra

Last year's haul was a mixed bag - the unfortunate new altar at St Mary's, Sydney vs Archbishop Coleridge's small but positive steps to making the most of Canberra's Cathedral, pictured above (now if he could just move the throne out of the way...).

The NLM piece centres on Perth (is it really too late?) and Hobart.

Hobart

"An Australian reader brought my attention some time ago to a new addition proposed for St. Mary's Cathedral in Hobart. The extension to the cathedral is being described as a narthex; it is, however, a large, three-story octagonal structure vaguely reminiscent of a baptistery and will include a basement crypt for the burial of archbishops and a top-story performance space seating 100 people; in between will be a gathering space for worshippers before and after mass. The structure will also include toilet facilities, meeting rooms and offices, and will be connected to the cathedral sacristy via a cloister element.

The project will cost $3 million Australian.Before I go on to comment on the design's less felicitous aspects, the cathedral and architects should be commended for choosing forms that attempt a rapprochement with traditional forms, as well as for seeking to reintroduce the custom of burying bishops within the bounds of their cathedral. However, the incorporation of a crypt serves to underline the oddly contradictory and even somewhat superfluous nature of this addition, while the historical references incorporated within the design feel superficial.

While it is being called a narthex, that is precisely the one thing which the structure is not. A narthex is not a gathering space or overflow social hall; it is a place of transition from world outside to the heavenly reality within. It is a space, first and foremost, tied into the liturgical experience of a church. It is unclear to me how the addition will relate to the existing narthex, if the cathedral has one, though the presence of doors in the rendering and its placement off to the side of the first bay of the cathedral nave suggests it will substantially distort the way the cathedral is entered, and thus the way the cathedral is experienced; it will become a somewhat circuitous, sidelong entry at odds with the processional path traditionally associated with entry into a church.

The structure's octagonal, centralized typology, is also troubling. It is somewhat reminiscent of a chapter-house, baptistery, or even some monastic kitchens, though at a greatly inflated scale. From the few renderings I have been able to find, it appears disproportionately large next to the nave of the cathedral, and appears dangerously close to competing with it--it is too low and broad to appear like a tower, and too wide to seem merely an ajunct to the church proper. For a crypt or tomb-chapel, such a structure has precedents (one is reminded of the Medici tombs in Florence) but given the crypt is secondary and the principal floors of the structure are taken up with a mix of primarily secular and administrative functions, it seems inappropriate.

If the builders wish to have a crypt, let them design a crypt; if they wish to have a social hall, let them have a social hall, but the mixture of these together, with a theater and toilets thrown in seems oddly indecorous, especially when cloaked in a centralized typology and profile that gives greater importance to the addition than it would appear to merit.

Lastly, as I have said before, the historical references, in addition to being somewhat misplaced, feel superficial. While an addition to a historic church need not merely ape every last detail of the parent structure, it should harmonize with and defer to its surroundings. The relatively simple renderings I have seen suggest typical modern detailing and fenestration. Especially when used in conjunction with Gothic structures, such elements can result in a design that feels like a caricature of Gothic, rather than an expansion of it. A truly traditional structure would have been preferable, but even, with a bit of imagination, a fairly "modern" design could have been attempted so long as the detailing and stonework felt in harmony with the existing fabric, resulting in something not unlike Lutyens' Castle Drogo, for instance."

Perth

"Unfortunately, this is not the only project of this nature. Another similar and even more indiscrete addition, is being proposed at a different St. Mary's Cathedral, in Perth, where a whole new chancel is being contemplated. The design will convert a beautiful Gothic interior into the sort of in-the-round design that was au courant about twenty years ago, including, most curiously, what appears to be an octagonal altar wholly without foundation in liturgical law or twenty centuries of Christian tradition.

It always saddens me to read of such projects. There are many rising traditional architects, and quite a few established ones, who could have produced a discrete, elegant addition in a traditional style, or at the very least in a contemporary style that sought enough common ground with the existing building to not appear in competition with it.

Even in the case of St. Mary's in Perth, a sanctuary re-ordering could have been attempted that brought the altar closer to the congregation without sacrificing its mystery, had the right precedents been studied. Comper, naturally, comes to mind. Such works would have been of international significance and of inestimable value for the growing restoration of the sacred. Instead, the resulting design will be just as expensive, and be indistinguishable from a host of other pseudo-traditional institutional structures and reorderings across the globe."

Rise up friends, and do what you can to save our cathedrals!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Traditionalist takeover of the DLP and Right to Life?

The Age yesterday had a piece on factional warfare in the DLP and Right to Life in Victoria:

"THEY are both on the far right of Australian religion and politics. But anti-abortion lobby group Right to Life Australia and the Democratic Labor Party are now fighting for the souls of their organisations against the same well-organised people from the even further right-wing fringe of the Catholic faith.

In the DLP's Victorian branch, so entrenched has the ideological battle become that the party's first parliamentary representative in a generation, Peter Kavanagh, has told The Sunday Age he would seriously reconsider his relationship with the party if a takeover attempt by his enemies succeeded.

Margaret Tighe, the hardline and long-serving former Right to Life president, has labelled the interlopers ''religious zealots'' and, late last night, the organisation endured a rowdy annual general meeting as Mrs Tighe and the traditionalists tried to oust the newcomers.

The same two men are at the centre of both power grabs. Marcel White is a Catholic convert who is the current president of Right to Life and, until he relinquished it earlier this month, was a preselected DLP candidate for the state upper house. The second is theological student Peter McBroom, a current DLP candidate.

By assiduous recruitment (their enemies call it branch stacking) among Catholic hardliners, Mr White and Mr McBroom have gained significant grassroots power in each organisation, and are trying to introduce a new Catholic purity.

It is said they talk of visitations from the Virgin Mary, accuse their enemies of not being good enough Catholics, of not reciting the rosary passionately enough and of marital infidelity. The tactics have split the DLP's Victorian branch and prompted a crisis for the organisation's constitution. They have changed the locks at Right to Life headquarters, tried to sack staff and have been accused of incurring ''extraordinary expenses''.

''There is a group there who want to re-establish the Inquisition,'' said one observer.

''Meanwhile, babies are being killed. These bloody lunatics who seem to think they will use this as their personal meal ticket to heaven.''

Both organisations have, until now, been predominantly Catholic but have also allowed Protestant members, even non-believers, in their ranks.

Mr White is Mrs Tighe's former protege and she helped him become president last year. Now she accuses him of trying to ''hijack our organisation''.

Mrs Tighe has enlisted Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart to her campaign, quoting him from an August 13 meeting saying he believed Right to Life ''should be a secular organisation in order to attract support from the wider community''.

But another observer says Mr White and Mr McBroom believe community support will come from religious purity: ''They think the more Catholic they are, the more votes they'll win.''

Mr White's proposed amendments to the Right to Life constitution would see it campaigning against contraception as well as abortion.

Now was the time, he wrote to members this month, to ''strike at the root of the rotten anti-life tree''.

''Artificial contraception is the underlying problem … you cannot be 100 per cent pro-life unless you oppose contraception.''

But this is a can of worms for the organisation. Deputy president John James agrees with Mr White about the dangers of contraception, but says the organisation should focus its resources on ''attacks on human life from conception onwards''.

Another Right to Lifer said: ''We are about saving unborn babies … What people do with pills, condoms, diaphragms is up to them.''

Mr White's other proposed amendments include introducing Catholic prayer at meetings, and making Our Lady of Guadalupe the organisation's patron.

In a letter to potential members recently, Mr White complained that those who opposed him were ''secularists, Protestants and modernist Catholics''.

Mr White boasts of signing up 500 new members to Right to Life. Dr James said many had been drawn from the ranks of those who prefer their Mass said in Latin, or from the Lebanese Maronite community.

The Right to Life executive has refused to accept the new members, heightening the controversy.

Last night's meeting was prompted by a vote of no confidence in Mr White at the previous meeting, and has been followed by vigorous proxy campaigns by both him and the alternative presidential candidate, Veronica Andrews. Neither would comment to The Sunday Age.

On Mr White's team are the wives of two DLP members, prompting concerns that they sought Right to Life's considerable asset base to use for political purposes.

''These are two organisations hungry for members and funding, and our concern is that Right to Life's assets could be vulnerable … it has enough to be attractive,'' Dr James said.

Mr Kavanagh said in a statement his concern was that the DLP traditions were under threat. These traditions included ''opposing all forms of extremism, welcoming and working for all Australians of all religions, and of no religion'' as well as ''being committed to truth as an ideal and an objective and maintaining a culture of peaceful and ordered debate''.

''I doubt if I could remain in and continue to work for the DLP if the party does not retain its great, long-held traditions,'' he said.

Mr Kavanagh would not comment further but said, if necessary, he would go into more detail in Parliament.

Mrs Tighe was happy to make her views known: ''It seems to me they're like religious zealots … it's crazy stuff, and I just hope that people wake up to it.''

Given that Victoria now has the most draconian pro-abortion laws on the books, clearly old approaches have failed. So a catholic revamp is surely worth a try?

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Oops - comments are back on!

Apologies to anyone who tried to comment - I had forgotten I had switched them off during my blog break. However, they are now turned back on again, so comment away...

How do we make our intercessory prayer as effective as possible?

A month or so back Acatholica talked about intercessory prayer. One of Brian Coyne's contribution can be summarized as 'I tried it, it didn't work, therefore intercessory prayer doesn't work'.

Now there is a flaw in this syllogism that will be obvious to anyone familiar with the doctrine on intercessory prayer: some of the literal texts of scripture notwithstanding, when we pray for something, we have to pray in reality that God's will be done, not ours, and that what we want might be God's will.

Still, it's all very well to understand that intellectually; emotionally is a different matter, as a few of my friends and I have discovered of late as we beg God for a miracle, to heal a friend of ours who is dying of cancer. So I thought it might be worth reflecting on some of the things we know about intercessory prayer. I'd be interested to hear if people think I'm on the right track here.

Intercessory prayer is important and hard work

The first and most obvious point, it seems to me, is that we should pray for the things we want (provided that they are not inherently bad things). There are lots of scriptural passages that encourage us to put our needs and desires in God's hands, and we are told there are some things he is waiting to grant us if we specifically ask for them.

The second point is that we shouldn't expect that the answer will come without effort on our part, or instantly. In Scripture there are many occasions where prayers are answered only after fasting and other acts of penitence, at the time God chooses, not us.

That's not to suggest that our less fervent prayers aren't worthwhile. But it is perhaps like the difference between just signing your name to a petition, writing to a politician, and organising a protest of some kind: the first shows you support the cause and is valuable, but writing a personal letter or doing something more is often even more effective. Still, there are times when lots of names on the petition is enough to have the desired effect!

The third point is to keep in mind that what we are really praying for God's will to prevail, and for ourselves to move to that perfect place where our own will is subordinated to his. Our prayer has to be that of the agony in the garden - fervent willingness to accept the Cross if that is God's will. Of course, short of a special grace, it isn't always possible to know whether what we are praying for is what God wants, so sometimes we just have to keep trying until we get a firm no.

But the consequence of this is that we can't depend on getting what we want - we have to plan for all possible outcomes, and be ready to accept them. And in the case of someone facing death, that means doing our best to help them accumulate merit, and prepare to meet God face to face, even if we hope that time is not yet here for them.

God's will, saints and sinners

One of the biggest problems we all face when it comes to prayer is the inevitable questioning of why we don't always get what we ask for. Is it because of some sin or lack of fervour on our part? I don't think the answer to this is straightforward.

At one level, the answer is no, our own sin and fervour isn't the issue, because we know God uses weak instruments, both saints and sinners to advance his plan. In the end, when it comes to miracles it is whether God wants something to happen that determines whether or not it does. God granted Constantine the Great a vision and a great victory for example, that ended the persecution of the Church, yet Constantine himself was only baptised on his deathbed and was very far from being a saint at that point.

On the other hand, we do know that God is more inclined to grant favours to his special friends - that's why we appeal to the saints for help for example, why one of the tests of being a saint is miracles, and why in eras past the first and most obvious step to consider when looking for a miracle was to enlist the aid of some holy nuns in praying for it!

Yet even the holiest of saints don't always get what they want. My favourite story is of a monk finding St. Benedict weeping, and asking what the problem was. St. Benedict replied that he hadn't been able to persuade God to avert the destruction of his monastery of Monte Cassino (by the Lombards), all God would agree to was to save the monks. And indeed, the monks were saved, fleeing to Rome and influencing the young Pope St. Gregory the Great to become a monk, and eventually send out monk missionaries to convert England.

Why God grants miracles

Great trials in our lives are great gifts - they can cause us to accumulate merit and grow in holiness when we pick up our cross willingly and struggle to accept God's will for us. That holiness can then shine out to others, drawing them to him through our example.

But so too can miracles - perhaps all the more so when we first demonstrate our willingness to accept the path that God has chosen for us.

God does grant great miracles, so needed in our day, in order to convince unbelievers, strengthen the faith of believers, and advance his plan for us and the world.

So please add your petition to mine and pray with me for a miracle for my friend.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Rights of children under attack in Tasmania

From the Australian Christian Lobby:

"In a blow for the rights of children, the Tasmanian Lower House today passed a bill which would create biological fiction and dismiss the presumption that a child has a father.

The Relationships (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2009 aims to amend the Status of Children Act 1974 so that the partner of a lesbian women who has conceived through IVF is also recognised as the child’s parent – in other words saying that the child has two mothers but no father. Please click here for details.

ACL Tasmanian Director Nick Overton has urged Tasmania’s Upper House to reject the proposed law changes saying that, in the case of a lesbian couple making use of assisted reproductive technology, the bill would change the State’s parenting presumptions to wrongly deny that a father ever existed.

“Children are not social experiments and the Upper House should carefully consider the ramifications of this bill, which strips from Tasmanian law the logical presumption that a child has one mother and one father,” Mr Overton said.

“While love is important in raising children, there are many other factors which impact on a child’s identity formation not least of which is the nurture of the different but complementary genders.

“The rights of adults, no matter how heartfelt, must never trump the best interests of the child.” Please click here to read an ACL media release...

Tasmania’s Legislative Council knocked back a similar move in 2003 and ACL believes that its members should not be pressured into passing it now. ACL today launched a ‘Don’t Dismiss Dad’ campaign against the bill on our Make a Stand website at http://www.makeastand.org.au/.

Tasmanian supporters are urged to voice their opposition to the bill by clicking on to this campaign and firing off an email to their Legislative Council representatives asking them to vote against the bill."

Friday, 21 August 2009

Seven signs of the Counter-reformation

1. A bishop ordains usus antiquior priests for his diocese.

From Rorate Caeli comes the extraordinary (sic) news of a bishop ordaining two priests in the traditional form not for the FSSP or one of the other organisations dedicated to the Traditional Latin Mass, but for his own diocese. Rorate Caeli reports:

"Bishop Dominique Rey of Frejus-Toulon will be ordaining two priests according to the traditional rite of ordination on September 26, 2009 in the cathedral of Toulon.

Of note is the fact that both of them will be ordained for the diocese. Deacon Marc de Saint-Sernin will be serving as a diocesan priest for Frejus-Toulon. The other ordinand, Deacon Eloi Gillet, will be serving with the Missionary Society of Divine Mercy, which runs the personal parish for the TLM in the same diocese (St. Francois de Paule).

To my knowledge, Frejus-Toulon is the only diocese in the whole world that offers to its seminarians the choice of being ordained either according to the usus recentior or the usus antiquior. (14 priests and 11 deacons had been ordained for the diocese of Frejus-Toulon according to the liturgical books of Paul VI last June.) As mentioned previously in this blog, the diocesan seminary of Toulon is open to those who wish to become priests of the diocese while continuing to prefer the usus antiquior."

2. A bishop reintroduces ad orientem worship

Bishop Slattery of Tulsa has been doing great things for some time now - aided by the spiritual power of Clear Creek Monastery, which is located in his diocese, he was worked to promote gregorian chant, encourage Eucharistic Adoration, and much more

Now he has gone the next step and reintroduced ad orientem worship in his cathedral. He has been working towards this for a while - back in Advent he celebrated a number of Masses ad orientem. And he's written an article explaining his reasons, alluding in particular to the ancient practice of the Church. You can read it in their excellent diocesan newspaper.

3. New lay apostolate centred on the traditional mass.

Go over and take a look at the New and Eternal website. And if you are in Sydney, do go to some of the events they are running at St Benedict's Broadway. Next up is a first Friday Mass, followed by a Solemn Mass for the Feast of the Exultation of Holy Cross (September 14).

4. The Feast of Blessed Mary of the Cross (Mary McKillop) celebrated with a traditional mass pilgrimage to Penola, SA

This was a week or two back now, but still worth mentioning. This year marked the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Blessed Mary of the Cross, Australia's first beatified, and so drew large crowds in many places. But particularly nice to see a diocesan approved traditional mass pilgrimage to the site of the start of her Order.






5. Tradition attracts vocations

A US study has confirmed the unsurprising news that the orders that are attracting vocations are those which look to tradition. Alarmingly, it found that ninety-one percent of US nuns and 75 percent of priests are 60 or older, and most of the rest are at least 50. I imagine the figures for Australia are pretty similar. There is hope though.

The study found that people are entering however - but to religious institutes that have a focused mission, who live in community, who have regular prayer and sacramental life, and who wear a habit.

6. Centacare becomes CatholicCare

The diocese of Canberra-Goulburn has changed the name of its social services delivery agency to CatholicCare in an attempt to re-establish its catholic identity. Wollongong and Sydney have already done likewise.

7. The rehabilitation of St. Philomena and other victims of the 1960s

One of the more unfortunate aspects of the 1960s and 70s was the influence of rationalism in approaches to the cult of saints. Saints whose cults had long been attested to by an oral tradition passed down the centuries and then written down, but for whom hard contemporary evidence was lacking were cut out of the calendar. Notes were added to the martyrology to qualify the claims of some saints. And the readings attesting to traditional understandings about the saint (such as St. Mary Magdalen's status as a penitent) were changed in the novus ordo mass. Slowly however, some of this is being reversed, as the people maintain their traditional devotion to these saints.

One example of this in this month's calendar is St Philomena (whose feastday is 11 August) - believed to be an early martyr, her tomb was discovered in the early nineteenth century, and a considerable cult grew up around her, spurred on by (authorized) revelations about her life by Sister Maria Luisa di Gesù (1799-1875). The revelations however attracted scientific debunkers, and in 1961 the Vatican withdrew the authorization for her cult.

In 2005, however, a scientific panel debunked the debunkers, and established the tomb as genuinely being of the second century (and thus consistent with Sr Maria Luisa's claim that the saint was a noble victim of Diocletian).

No formal rehabilitation of her status has yet been made, but a number of blogs this year have pointed to her story.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Video of Assumption Mass at St Benedict's, Broadway

There are a few pictures and so forth emerging from Assumption celebrations around the country. Here is a Sydney contribution:



And you can find some nice pictures from Melbourne here.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

St Joachim, Father of the Blessed Virgin Mary


Sunday gazumps the feast of St. Joachim this year, but he is a saint worth remembering nonetheless, an encouragement to pray for all fathers, that they might help bring up saints!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Happy Feast of the Assumption

Enjoy a little of Monteverdi's Vespers of the Blessed Virgin to go with the day: