Monday, 30 June 2008

On ecumenism and the filioque

***This post has been amended***

At the Pallium Mass, Pope Benedict XVI and Ecumenical Patriarch Batholomew I recited together together the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Creed - sans filioque - in Greek.

How should we interpret this move?

There are a number of ways of interpreting this. First, at one level it is nothing new. Pope John Paul II did this on a number of occasions.

But Pope Benedict XVI in my observation tends to be rather more deliberate in the statements he makes with these sort of gestures.

Secondly, a commenter has pointed out to me that it is quite common to omit the filioque when the Creed is said in Greek, even in the Eastern Catholic Churches.

Perhaps, but it still seems to me that standing with someone and reciting the Creed strongly implies that we actually believe the same things.

Is there a theological issue around the filioque?

The reality is that the Orthodox have in the past regarded the Catholic position on the filioque as heretical, and from the Catholic side, the filioque has been defined as dogma.

There is a lot of history behind the filioque ("And the son'). It wasn't part of the Creed as it was formulated at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

It was added to the Creed in the West informally at first, in various dioceses to counter heresy. It then became standard in the West.

Part of the reason the misunderstanding arose is that its theological basis was developed by St Augustine, whose works were virtually unknown in the East before the schism (and largely rejected as heretical afterwards). It is noteworthy then, that the Patriarch explicitly mentioned St Augustine in his homily at Vespers.

Among Western apologists, it has become fashionable over the last few years to argue that the Western addition represented expediency only, and so could readily be removed in response to Eastern objections (which are partly about the authority to change a Creed mandated by an Ecumenical Council).

The trouble is, the filioque does have a theological history in the West, and is important to the way we explain the Trinity. There have been many - ultimately unsuccessful - attempts to resolve the issue through theological discussions between East and West from the twelfth century onwards.

There are however some plausible arguments to the effect that the two positions were only apparently contradictory, and are capable of reconciliation if one correctly understood the differing theological perspectives of the two sides. Some good minds have long devoted themselves to trying to build a case to persuade both sides on this with greater and lesser degrees of success (with more success on the Western side than the Eastern at least up until now as far as I can gather). I've seen reports that the Pope is in this camp.

So how should we understand the Pope’s gesture?

A commenter on the New Liturgical Movement blog, Colman, speaking from an Orthodox perspective, captures a reaction to this move that I suspect will be that of many, namely that this was not a prudent move:

"The developments at the Vatican and within the Latin Church in general are truly wonderful.

The generosity of the Pope to the EP is a remarkable effort of hospitality.

However, I wish that such premature events should not take place. We are not one. As most of the Latin's on the list think the Orthodox left the Church sometime ago.

The Orthodox, of whom I am one, likewise think the Latins left the Church in schism or heresy sometime ago.

Until the matter is cleared up, perhaps the EP could avoid giving such scandal to the bulk of the Orthodox by avoiding participation in liturgical events by those we consider heterodox.

These acts don't further unity but rather consternation with the bulk of the Orthodox Churches. Also, the eastern touch could be provided by any number of uniate clergy.

I love and am grateful for the desire for unity but until there is unity why act like there is?"

There are two alternatives though, that we should consider. One approach is to argue that the statement is effectively that each side respects the others position and now views them as not being inconsistent.

The Pope has argued in the past that the Orthodox might be able to be reconciled to the Church on the basis that they would not have to explicitly accept any defined dogmas post-1054 (just not reject them as heretical).

In a sense this is akin to the approach many traditionalists take, sticking with earlier formulations of the Church's teaching in the face of more recent if it is good enough for traditionalists, why not as a means of taking another step forward in reconciling the Orthodox!

The second possibility is to argue that they are making a statement that filioque is not really a substantive point of theological dispute between the Church and the Orthodox any more.

Whichever way you interpret it, it is interesting that the Patriarch proclaimed the Year of St Paul for his Church as well. This all seems to me to hint at the possibility that significant progress is being made. Seems like our prayers for unity should also be focusing on the Orthodox at the moment!

Dear anonymous

I love getting comments.

It makes me feel that someone is actually reading this stuff.

And each comment generally inclines me to think it is worth keeping going, something I regularly debate.

I'd really encourage you though to put a name (any name) to your comments. Its hard to refer back to them otherwise! And its nice to know if its the same anonymous that is commenting, or several different people.

So please, do keep commenting (or start if you haven't been!). And pick a name to attach to them.

Inauguration of the Pauline Year and Pallium Mass

Some images of the Pallium Mass - for more see the New Liturgical Movement blog.

And also from Vespers on Saturday, inaugurating the Pauline year:

The Vespers for the inauguration of the Pauline Year featured some beautiful vestments, the throne, not bad music and much more. So watch out for events at which you can gain your plenary indulgence....

Both events though, were also notable for the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, who gave blessings and a short homily at Vespers. On Sunday he participated in the Mass where the pallium is imposed on new archbishops.

On this, it is perhaps worth drawing attention to what the Pope said on ecumenical events of this kind at the same event last year:

"...these meetings and initiatives are not merely an exchange of courtesies between Churches but are intended to express the common commitment to do everything possible to hasten the time of full communion between the Christian East and West.....

This Basilica, which has hosted profoundly significant ecumenical events, reminds us how important it is to pray together to implore the gift of unity, that unity for which St Peter and St Paul spent their lives, to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of their blood....

The Apostle to the Gentiles, who was especially committed to taking the Good News to all peoples, left no stones unturned for unity and harmony among all Christians."

The Pope's sermon this year focused primarily on the Church as the mystical body of Christ, and St Paul's mission.

The Patriarch added:

"The radical conversion and apostolic kerygma of Saul of Tarsus 'shook' history in the literal sense of the word and shaped the identity of Christianity itself. This great man exercised a profound influence on the classic Fathers of the Church, like St. John Chrysostom in the East, and St. Augustine of Hippo in the West.
Even if he had never met Jesus of Nazareth, St. Paul directly received the Gospel "through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal 1,11,12).

This sacred place outside the walls is doubtless more than ever the appropriate place to commemorate and celebrate a man who established the union between the Greek language and the Roman mentality of his time, stripping Christianity once and for all of every mental constraint and forging for always the catholic foundation of the ecumenical Church.

Let us hope that the life and Letters of St. Paul may continue to be for us a source of inspiration "so that all men may have the obedience of faith in Christ" (cfr Rom 16,26-27)."

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Latest on the SSPX situation

Rorate Caeli has has provided another update - perhaps a little more positive in tone than we might have expected, but not what one might have hoped for. Here it is:

"The Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (FSSPX / SSPX), Bishop Bernard Fellay, granted today an interview to Gino Driussi, of RTSI (the Italian-language Swiss public radio), providing some very enlightening answers:
[17:45][Fellay:] Perhaps it is false to say, in such a way, directly, that I reject, that I propose a total rejection [of the conditions], that is not true. Rather, I see in this ultimatum a very vague, confused thing. But, in fact, I have already written a response and we will see how Rome will react....

[18:53] [Fellay:] For me, this ultimatum has no sense, because we have relations with Rome which go forward in a certain speed, which is truly slow. And it is true, on the other hand, that both the Cardinal [Castrillón Hoyos] and the Holy Father would wish for a rather accelerated speed. For me, the only meaning of this ultimatum is the expression of this desire of Rome to give it a little bit of hastiness. And for me it is not a reconsideration of all our relations.

[Interviewer:] "Then, you expect to continue in the dialogue, thus?"

[Fellay:] Yes, yes, it is possible that there will now be a time of more, of coolness, but, frankly, for me, it is not over, no."

Feast of SS Peter and Paul

Dom Gueranger tells us that this is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church, and because St Paul died with his comrade in death, a festival in a sense of the whole apostolic college.

Today the focus is on St Peter (have your Peter's pence at the ready!); tomorrow more on St Paul. It is also the FSSP's patronal feast.

Because the Pope is inaugurating the Pauline Year, however, this year the balance will change a little with a special first Vespers showing on EWTN at 1.30am and again at 8am today.

Recent posts of interest

Just a reminder of some recent posts that may be of interest:

On evangelising using the TLM and the bishops' pastoral letter:

On welcoming visitors to the Mass
On getting new people to the TLM
Showing our joy
Can Gregorian chant be revived?
The health benefits of Gregorian chant
Pastoral Letter: Will you be my witnesses?
Countering congregationalism
Catholic Mass attendance in Australia
Facing Islam

On bringing back traditional practices and disciplines

On minimalism
The Eucharistic Fast
Celebrate Holy Days of Obligation on their actual days!
Kneeling for communion
Kneeling, the pallium and more

The age of the laity?

Why we need nuns
The spirit of Vatican II history of the laity
Is there such a thing as laity spirituality?

Political correctness gone mad

Sorry, you've used up your allocation of Carbon. Die now.
O Canada
Tony Blair's think tank

And finally, don't forget to send me your contributions on

The effects of Summorum Pontificum - photos of major events, short or longer reflections on its impact on you or your community would be most welcome. Send anything as early as possible this week to me at

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Tu es Petrus...

Enjoy Palestrina's motet to prepare for the feast!

Getting newbies in the door

Yesterday, in the light of the bishop's campaign to evangelise Australia, focusing particularly on lapsed Catholics, I posted on how to keep newcomers coming to the Mass once they make it thorugh the door.

Today I want to share some ideas for getting them to the Church in the first place!

There are three strands of this I think.

First, persuading your friends, workmates and family to come along. Things like social events, special event masses, choir concerts and the like (on all of which see below) seem to me to be the most likely way in.

Secondly, enabling those people who have at least some interest in the TLM already to hook up with you - websites, advertising and generally having a profile on your diocesan website is crucial here.

Thirdly, generating interest from those who haven't really thought about it.

First make sure people can find you

The bishops' letter to lapsed catholics may well touch some who will look for a Traditional Latin Mass. But will they be able to readily find it?

1. Make sure details of times and location of your TLM are on the diocesan website.

You may need to make nice to the webmaster.

I did a quick check on the major cities - Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Canberra.

Only Perth's was easy to find; Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney had something there if you looked hard enough at the list of parishes, but it was hard to find.

2. Have your own website and keep it up to date.

We live in a technological age. The first thing most people do when they want to know something is google it. And maintaining a blog or website is pretty easy these days.

So why doesn't every TLM community have a website?

And for those that do have them, why are they mostly so out of date?

My own view is that an out of date website is almost worse than not having one at all in terms of persuading people to come along. I won't name names (just yet!), you know who you are, fix it!

3. Make sure your entry on other TLM lists is up-to-date

There are a number of listings, including wiki missa. Check that yours is listed correctly. Most of the entries I found on a quick google were well and truly out of date. Although it is good to see that the Oriens listing now seems to be pretty up-to-date.

4. Consider advertising in the diocesan newspaper, student newspapers (especially in Orientation weeks at the beginning of the year), etc.

The value of special events

Some people won't come for ordinary masses - but they might be enticed in by special events. So advertise your solemn masses, especially if a bishop is coming. And find excuses to put them on!

For example, I assume many communities will do something special for the anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, either on 7/7 or on the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross. Why not invite members of other parishes to come and join your celebration?

Social events

For some people, attending the TLM might be too big a first step. They may suspect we are all weirdos for example. But invite them to a trivial pursuit night, or a fundraiser of some kind, let them get to know you, and you never know what might happen....

On Chant and choirs

Gregorian chant is hitting the charts once more, so its an obvious thing to use to get people interested. Again, coming to Mass might be too big a first step - but a concert by your choir might serve as a bridge. Or have a small group singing chant somewhere conspicuous on your lcoal TAFE or University campus, with leaflets to hand out to those interested.

In fact advertising for choir members can also be an effective means of recruiting - but you have to then be willing to train those who turn up!

Chant workshops are another possible recruitment ground - have a read of the post at the Juventutem blog on the hindu gentleman attending the chant workshops currently running in Sydney.

They can also be a useful way of helping novus ordo communities upgrade their liturgy too - I heard a story from the same workshop about a small group whose previous exposure to chant was through videogames and Enigma, and who came because their priest wants them to sing the Creed in Latin. I think we can expect more of this kind of thing - see my previous post on this Can Gregorian chant be revived.

Seminars and workshops

I've been intrigued by the workshops for the laity on the TLM being advertised currently in the US. Sounds like an excellent idea to me!

The other alternative might be for your priest to give a talk as part of some diocesan series, or even put on a few sessions yourselves and advertise them widely.

O Canada....

I have a soft spot for Canada.

It always seems, superficially at least, kind of like Australia except with a lot more snow.

It has some spectacular scenary.

And I used to like their line of slightly off-kilter cult tv shows (think Forever Knight, Highlander, Seeing Things, La Femme Nikita, etc).

I must admit I had always assumed the excessive politeness thing (remember the constantly apologising Mountie in Due South) was partly an attempt at differentiation from the roughnecks over the border, and partly a device necessary to prevent Quebec from declaring independence.

The problem is, when you push the cult of niceness to its logical extremes, you get the madness currently erupting in this sometime outpost of the British Commonwealth. Like:

  • priests teaching on sins like the practice of homosexuality being dragged in front of a tribunal with a hundred percent conviction rate, and thus likely to incur huge fines under the Human Rights Act;
  • the Catholic bishop of Chicoutimi who apparently doesn't think the Pope has any jurisdiction in his diocese; and

  • twelve year old children successfully taking their parents to court for having the audacity to ground them, on which see Acts of Apostasy!
On this last I can only assume that the Canadians are intent on taking the South Park song a little too literally:

"Our kids are getting worse. They won't obey their parents. They just want to fart and curse!Should we blame the government? Or blame society? Or should we blame the images on TV? No, blame Canada Blame Canada...."

Friday, 27 June 2008

Keep praying for the SSPX reconciliation...

There are lots of rumours floating around suggesting that the SSPX has already rejected the five conditions, including a Reuters report and a few others.

But none of them seem credible as final statements at this stage.

Most of the reports seem to be based on Bishop Fellay's comments from last week. A more recent set of comments from Bishop Williamson is reported on Rorate Caeli, but again, he is not Bishop Fellay!

So keep praying I think.

Bring back the three hour fast before Mass

Regular readers will recall that last week I wrote on minimalism, suggesting the need to restore some of the traditional disciplines like (a real) fast before reception of communion.

Canonist Dr Edward Peters has now set out a good case for bringing back at least the three hour fast before communion, and his article has been picked up by Fr Z.

Why we need fasts

In my previous entry, I questioned firstly whether traditionalists really do follow all of the traditional disciplines such as a longer fast before communion, picking up on a point made by commenter Peter that they certainly don't seem to be turning up at no-longer-holy-days of obligation.

Secondly I suggested that in order to restore fervour in the Church and convert Australia saving the liturgy is a necessary condition - but not sufficient. We also need to look at demanding more of ourselves in terms of a common asceticism. For evangelisation to succeed we need to become a 'higher tension' religion, one that demands significant sacrifices from its adherents. Do read my original piece!

Dr Peters' case

Dr Edward Peters has now made a strong argument for strengthening the Eucharistic fast not on the basis of the communal dimensions of asceticism, but the individual and I do agree that these are important too.

First, a longer fast means that there really is a sense of fasting - both mind and body are prepared for reception of the Eucharist.

Secondly, it removes some of the distractions that can occur at the moment.

Thirdly, it would make the requirement more real, and perhaps therefore more strictly adhered too.

Fourthly it would reduce the pressure to receive at every mass, regardless of worthiness.

And fifthly it could help make it clear that attending Mass has a virtue beyond just receiving communion.

These are all excellent arguments.

So both to support a stronger focus on the Real Presence, and hence to strengthen our sense of worship and community, this could be an important first step in strengthening practice.

Let us hope someone is listening!

On countering the Congregationalist heresy

A commenter on last weekend's Pastoral Letter from the Australian bishops on evangelization has pointed to a key group I didn't mention as in need of evangelization, namely those who come to Mass, but are dissenters. He has also highlighted concerns about the tone of the 'Been Away' letter, which urges lapsed Catholics to return to the Church.

Both seem to me to be questions of tactics rather than anything else. I suspect the bishops have actually done some research on what approaches might work.

And I think there is a plausible rationale for their approach.

Failure to practice Catholic morality

It is perhaps worth starting by recalling a line or two from the Catechism of the Council of Trent for some rather tougher talk than one will find in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church.

"The Church Militant," it says, "is composed of two classes of persons, the good and the bad...." The bad, it goes on to explain, are those who profess the faith but don't live it.

Think here of those who come to Mass but contracept. They know what they are doing is wrong. But they do it anyway - and they remain part of the Church:

"...however wicked and evil they may be, it is certain that they still belong to the Church. Of this the faithful are frequently to be reminded..."


The catechism also states though, that "..three classes of persons are excluded from the Church's pale: infidels, heretics and schismatics, and excommunicated persons....Heretics and schismatics are excluded from the Church, because they have separated from her and belong to her only as deserters belong to the army from which they have deserted."

There are some who outright reject what the Church teaches. Are dissenters therefore excluded from the Church? Not necessarily, for as the Catechism also points out:

"For a person is not to be called a heretic as soon as he shall have offended in matters of faith; but he is a heretic who, having disregarded the authority of the Church maintains impious opinions with pertinacity."
In other words, the erroneous nature of their views needs to be firmly and clearly brought to their attention. That has clearly happened in some cases (such as priests who chose to leave the priesthood rather than conform). But it is pretty clear that many people in the pews continue to be misled by either a failure on the part of their priests to teach, or by the propagation of outright error.

Have the bishops ignored the need for reform within the Church?

If you go to the website for this initiative, Evangelise Australia, you will actually find a section on the need to start by evangelising ourselves and those in the Church. It talks about the need to model the virtues ourselves. It provides resources on prayer and particularly the rosary. So I think the bishops are acknowledging the issue.

It will partly addressed, I think, by papal teaching, on which I suspect we might be about to get a good dose!

In the end though, as we are all only too well aware, whether or not the underlying issues are being tackled largely comes down to the individual bishop, their own views, and their vigour in tackling the problems.

On this we must pray. We must support the positive actions the bishops we can take wherever possible, and avoid reading the worst case scenario into everything.

And we must do what we can that is within in our competence. Don't like the prospect of pantsuited nuns running a Bible study group? Then set one up yourself and get hold of some good orthodox materials to use! Volunteer to lead the Reconnect seminars in your parish!

There are however, I think, serious attempts being made to address the problem on a more systematic basis, but it will take time.

How can erroneous views be countered?

Dr Tracey Rowland's book Ratzinger's Faith has an interesting discussion of the Pope's views on ecclesiology. Essentially she says that he has been very critical of the 'People of God' language emphasized in the documents of Vatican II, in part because it positively lends itself to a sort of congregationalism.

I've dubbed this heresy neo-congregationalism, because the original version of congregationalism was of course the Protestant Reformation. And I do think it is pretty clear that it deserves to be called a heresy. Rowland captures the main elements of it very well. It

"... emphasizes the democratization of the Church's offices and structures, the abolition of celibacy for the clergy, the ordination of women, and the promotion of liberal attitudes towards the meaning and purpose of human sexuality.' (p86).

The Pope's alternative approach

Rowland points out that the Pope's Communio school of theology chooses instead to emphasize the view of the Church as 'communio', building on the notion of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ set out in Pius XII's Mystici Corporis.

Now I'm not personally that enamoured of the communio model, but I do see that its stress on the diversity and complementarity of roles in the Church could potentially be quite effective in countering neo-congregationalism. It argues that everyone is specifically called by God to a particular role, through their particular gifts, in building up the Church in a way consistent with their own particular state of life. But it firmly rejects any sociological view which sees the Church as a network of power structures, or as a kind of multinational corporation with the Pope as CEO and laity as shareholders.

What is the best tactic to get them in?

A traditionalist might stress the need to convert people or bring the lapsed back into the Church for their personal salvation, and only incidentally point to the good they might then do in advancing the mission of the Church.

But it is equally valid I think - and perhaps more appealing - to stress, at least at first, the idea of what one can contribute to the Church's mission by coming back and of the need for unity. This is where I think the bishops are coming from in the 'Been Away' letter, where it says things like:

"Why not join us again? We need each other. We need your help in carrying on the mission of Jesus. Only with you, can we be all that Jesus calls us to be as his Church. You have a God-given gift which you alone can bring to the Church. We need that gift."

Of course this needs to be followed up with instruction on the need for the sacrament of penance and much more.

The first step, though, is to get peple back in the door, and once there, to help them understand that they can play a valuable role through the practice of the Church's morality, and without needing to play at being pseudo-priests as extraordinary ministers etc.

I think we should give the bishop's letter the benefit of the doubt.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

And thick and fast they came at last...

Many (myself included) have whinged about the slow speed at which reform seemed to be happening. But the pace is definitely picking up!

Apart from the SSPX moves, consider these statements (of one kind or another) by or on behalf of the Pope in the last week:

  • kneeling will now be the norm for papal masses Fr Z reports from an interview with Mgr Marini;
  • the old style papal pallium - the product of centuries of organic development - will replace the antiquarian revival of the ancient pallium that has been used of late - see the New Liturgical Movement;
  • a papal homily stating that 'The Mass is not a meal among friends. It is a mystery of the covenant...'

Some of these are small things in themselves.

But the rationale and logic behind them make big statements.

A few prayers for the Pope, in addition to the prayers you are saying for the SSPX (the NLM is suggesting a rosary for each of the next three days) would definitely be in order I think!

The latest on the SSPX deal....

Fr Z has translated some more contextual material on the negotiations withe SSPX, from Andreas Tornelli. In particular, the conditions are directed at Bishop Fellay:

"Above all these conditions were not posed to the Lefevbrites in general, but precisely to their Superior, that is, the same Bp. Fellay.

In conversations he manifests the will to dialogue, but then he writes and agrees with very harsh attacks on the Pope.

The five conditions are therefore a preliminary step to begin the journey that will lead to the revocation of the excommunication.

Central to this is the point dedicated to the fact that the SSPX, and its superiors, give the impression to feel themselves superior to the Pontiff himself, to judge him from above, as if the SSPX were the "true" Church and the "true" Rome, and the Catholic Church lead by Benedict XVI was a separated group that has to reenter in full communion with Econe and Menzingen.

The truth, unfortunately, is that there are by now stratified attitudes and positions (some comments on the preceding post demonstrate this is true) which make make recognizing this given dimension difficult: the Lefebvrites are not the true Church, the true Catholic Church is that which is in communion with Benedict XVI.

Never before as in this moment is the Pontiff’s generous pastoral heart, through the mediation of Card. Castrillon, open to reconciliation. But it is the SSPX that must return to the sheepfold about the schismatic act of illicit consecrations by Lefebvre, and not the Holy See that must ask pardon of the Lefebvrites."

He also reports some indications that Bishop Fellay is seriously considering the matter, and not rejecting it out of hand (as might have been inferred from his previous comments on the subject).

Keep praying.

On welcoming visitors...

The Pastoral Letter from the bishops asked us to 'ensure that our parish communities are genuinely welcoming and respectful'.

This could, I admit be interpreted in a number of ways, as commenters have pointed out.

But rather than thinking the worst, I want to suggest that we might start by considering the possible mote in our own eye, and focus on our own TLM communities.

Attending a TLM for the first time can be hard

I think we have to bear in mind where visitors are coming from.

I would like to suggest that for many people, attending a TLM for the first time (or the first time in many, many years) can be as alien an experience as venturing into a synagogue or a mosque would be for you or I.

They come not sure whether or not we are actually worshipping the same God, or are really part of the same Church.

They don't really know what is going on (if they try following it in the book, especially at a sung mass, they quickly get lost).

They certainly don't know when to sit or stand, when to respond or when to be silent, and find that disconcerting (we live in an age where conformity to the norm is greatly treasured!). It is even more disconcerting for those who have memories of the mass from many years back which turn out to be a lot vaguer than they expected!

They may have been told that all traddies are weirdos.

They come once and are never seen again...

Now some are pretty much instantly converted (I was).

But more often it takes a few times to get it.

Trouble is, in my observation, most visitors only come once and are never seen again.

And even for the converted (and I speak from experience here, particularly from experiences visiting other towns), visiting a TLM can feel fairly uncomfortable when no one makes much of an effort to welcome you.

My theory is that we too have been somewhat affected by the 'privatisation' of religion - and this is partly the reason Catholics don't like to sing. We come to Mass focused on our own preparation to assist at mass, which is good. But not if it means we are so preoccupied that we forget the communal dimensions of the celebration altogether.

So what can we do to help newcomers feel more welcome?

I don't think there are any easy answers, but here are some ideas I've been thinking about for a while. Some of these are things I've seen done with some success, but rarely happen consistently (and I'm as guilty on that count as anyone). Some reflect some suggestions on Rorate Caeli. Others are the fruit of discussion with those I've managed to drag along to the TLM, reflection and experience!

Suggestions for being more welcoming

1. Look happy and smile

We should be sharing our joy at the great gift of the Traditional Mass that we've been given. Instead we often look depressed, dominated perhaps by a Jansenist horror at man's depravity as witnessed by either our own problems or the excesses in the Church.

Put all that aside, smile, introduce yourself, and say hello to newcomers (and regulars!) before and after Mass.

2. Station someone at the door to make sure newcomers have books etc.

I think having welcomers at the door is a good idea. I know some TLMs do this, but others don't. And if you are a visitor, even if you are not a total newbie to the TLM, working out just where the bulletins, sheets for the day etc are hiding out can be hard.

Also, if you can identify newcomers when they come in, you can make sure they have a missalette, perhaps explain a little, and ideally, make sure someone sits next to them to help them find their place in the book.

3. Have a 'welcome to our community' leaflet at the ready.

Something that explains why Latin is used. The conditions for receiving communion. That communion is given kneeling. That many women choose to wear headcoverings in the light of tradition, but that it is not compulsory. And welcomes newcomers to other community activities.

A link to a communty website (with resources on understanding the mass?) might also be nice.

4. Encourage your priest to stay at the door and say hello to people as they leave, rather than disappearing into the sacristy.

Some do this, some don't. But I think it is important to have the pastor of the community visible and available to answer questions the newcomer might have, welcome their visit, etc.

5. Make sure community members are available to talk to newcomers after the Mass.

Traddies like to make long thanksgivings. That's praiseworthy.

But in the meantime, before anyone else gets up, the newcomer has done a runner, not invited to morning coffee or whatever, or having a chance to meet and talk about what they have just experienced.

I'd recommend some consideration of St Benedict's admonitions to worship Christ in the guest (he took it pretty literally, with the monks prostrating themselves to the visitor), and keeping one's prayers 'short and pure' if necessary in the interests of the practice of charity.

6. If you do have a social event after mass, make sure no one stands alone, ignored.

7. Don't tell people off for doing (what you consider to be) the wrong thing.

We've all seen it. The visitor who clearly remembers the dialogue mass (or just assumes responses are said aloud) - let them do the responses! They will work it out if they come back a few times and are the only person talking.

Don't glare at those who attempt to sing (even if very out of tune or whatever).

And don't harass the woman who doesn't wear a veil. She has eyes and can see that others are wearing one. Leave it to her to ask why.

7. Consider running an information session or two to explain the Mass and its spirituality.

This could be a good way of getting people in too!

Any other ideas?

The Five Conditions for the SSPX: An Australian Translation

The five conditions set by the Holy See for a return of the SSPX into 'full communion' have now appeared in a number of languages around blogdom (you can find them in English here), but not until now in Australian terms. Here is my attempt for your consideration:

1. The Pope has decided to put on a barbie for you (the fatted calf is even now being readied). Come to the party and bring a bottle of vino with you.

2. Stop slagging off at the Pope.

3. Stop pontificating.

4. Play by the rules. No sledging. No foul play.

5. RSVP by end June.

A Mr Jason Keeler, in a comment on Fr Z's blog coined a new title for the Pope, in the light of his offer to the SSPX - Pope Benedict the Generous.

I like it.

I hope the SSPX accept. If they don't they lose any credibility they had left.

I suggest we all use either the prayer Fr Z has composed for the situation, or perhaps this collect from the mass for the removal of schism:

"O God, who dost correct what has gone astray and gatherest together what is scattered,
and keepest what thou hast gathered together,
we beseech Thee in Thy mercy to pour down upon Christian people the grace of union with Thee,
and putting aside disunion and attaching themselves to the true shepherd of Thy Church, they may be able to render Thee due service."

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

"Will you be my witnesses"

Thanks to an alert reader, I've learnt that the Australian Bishops put out a pastoral letter last weekend. It doesn't seem to be on the Bishop Conference website, or many diocesan ones for that matter, nor has it featured in Cath News. And I didn't get given a copy!

This is a really important pastoral letter for Australia.

I can't remember hearing of a bishops' conference in recent times standing up and say we should all be out converting people.

What is really amazing about this document is that although all the publicity has been about lapsed Catholics, the letter makes it clear that the real aim goes a lot further. It identifies two target groups - non-Christians, and non-Catholics (including the lapsed).

The bishops should be commended for this initiaitve, and they deserve our wholehearted support.

There are a few odd bits in it, but it is an important starting point:

"World Youth Day provides a powerful theme, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses (Acts 1: 8). Through the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to witness to Jesus Christ, which means we ought be inviting as many as possible to share in the forgiveness and salvation Jesus has won for all of us. In their emphasis on the new evangelisation, recent Popes have stressed this same message. [So the Pope's visit should be a spur for evangelisation. Good start]

While many in the world have never heard of Jesus, in our own society many
have heard of him, but not responded
.[So. Non-Christians are the first target group. Actually I think many in Australia have heard of him in such a vague, woolly and misleading way that I suspect 'invincible ignorance' is a real issue.] Others in our society have begun to believe, but their faith in the Lord Jesus has waned, especially in terms of their relationship with the Church, the Body of Christ. [This is nicely worded - it kind of implies that the main target group are the 86% of those who claim to be catholics on the census form, but don't actually attend Church or believe what Catholics are required to believe. But it clearly also encompasses other Christians not in 'full' communion with the Church.]

The reasons for this are many and varied. [Let me suggest a few - the wreckovation that destroyed the liturgy and practice. Child abuse. A failed education system. Destruction of religious life. Undermining of the clerical vocations. Anti-Catholic propaganda, etc.] Whatever the reason, this has resulted in a situation where the Church community is impoverished because of their absence. While we address this letter to the community of faith worshipping the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic celebration, it is really our brothers and sisters, who are absent from our worshipping community, who are the subject of this letter.

Jesus Christ lives in his Church

Many of us, bishops, priests, grandparents, parents and others feel a deep personal pain, anxiety, even guilt at this loss. [And there are some people who should feel very guilty indeed for the damage they have done to the Church.] Have we failed in being true witnesses to Jesus? Have we resisted the power the Holy Spirit has given us?

A further concern is that our brothers and sisters are not regularly in touch with the Mystery of our salvation, which is the risen Christ, and therefore, they are somewhat removed from that very full manifestation of the love of the Father that is made present in the Church. [What a classic circumlocution! What we mean here surely is something about being in danger of going to hell....!]

While the Spirit blows where he will, and Jesus comes to us in our ordinary everyday life especially through the poor and needy (Mt 25), Jesus’ command to “Do this in memory of me” is only carried out in the Church. [So action on social justice is not enough] We recognize that the Mass lies at the very heart of our Catholic faith. The sacraments too, which many who are distant from the Church still seek, are a further encounter with Jesus that is not present elsewhere. The sacraments are really the most intense and intimate expressions of that life-giving community of disciples, that fellowship in Jesus, which is the Church. This is the work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is in the Church that Jesus and the Father have uniquely come and made their home (Jn 14:23).


What can we do to address this situation? Firstly, we must ensure that our parish communities are genuinely welcoming and respectful. [This is important. Catholics, traddie or otherwise, are very bad at this.] Why should people come back to us, if the welcome they receive is no better than it was previously? Secondly, we need to go in search of those who are no longer with us, like a shepherd reaching out to the lost sheep (Jn 10). [Remember all that stuff about rejoicing over the one sheep lost that was found....]

This is much harder, but it is perhaps even more necessary. It will involve a variety of
approaches. It runs the risk of rejection, but that is a risk which the new evangelisation demands [Oh how I hate that term!]. Many of those to whom we want to reach out
could be just looking for or waiting for, even unconsciously, a word of
welcome, encouragement or invitation
.[Well, I suspect mostly it will take a lot more than that!]

The right approach is essential. Only slowly can one broach the delicate questions of faith and conscience with those we are seeking. [Agreed. It will mostly take a long time and a lot of patience to get to this group.] Jesus himself, the Good Shepherd, is surely the model for us in this regard. The approach will often take the form of allowing them to tell their story in a context of sharing our faith. Whatever form it takes, it should arise from their need, not ours.

Sharing hope

Who is to meet this challenge? Every member of the Church. We are all responsible.

No one can excuse themselves from this responsibility, because it flows from the Baptism that we all share. Some of the faithful feel that they do not have the necessary theological training to make such an approach or to engage in deeper conversation about the faith. St Peter tells us, Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15). Sharing your faith with people is sometimes better and more convincing than theological argumentation. Faith speaks to the heart, and the heart responds to God. [OK this section is a bit weird and to me seems possibly even dangerous. 1 Peter 3:15 is usually is usually cited as the basis for apologetics, a rationale for having your arguments at the ready, not as a basis for sharing some kind of 'faith experience' instead! And in my experience, people in this situation do actually have some theological questions that need to be worked through. If we are going to evangelize, we do actually need to know our faith.]

Our personal witness can also be supported by other means: strategies and programmes designed for this purpose; prayer and bible study groups; effective use of the media and modern technology. There are now many Catholic websites, some interactive in a way that could be helpful in making and sustaining contact with people. It is important that parishes and other communities explore which strategies and programmes are most suited to their particular situation. [I think a lot more creativity is required in this area, but...]

We Bishops have just commissioned a new programme called Reconnect. It invites all Catholics to reconsider their participation in the life of the Church. (Contact 1300 4 FAITH – 1300 432 484). World Youth Day will challenge all those who have Jesus in their heart to
reflect more deeply on their relationship with him. It may well be the occasion
for many to turn again to the family of the Church
. We must continue
to reflect on its theme: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes
upon you and you will be my witnesses (Acts 1: 8).

When Pope Benedict XVI, the Vicar of Christ on earth, celebrates Mass at Randwick, it will be a unique expression of our Catholic faith. We invite all to join us in the family of the Church around our chief Shepherd. Let us boldly witness to our faith!

The Catholic Bishops of Australia
22 June 2008

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

On returning home....

No not the Australian bishops' pastoral letter on lapsed catholics, but the SSPX!

NLM and other sources have stories that the SSPX has until 28 June to respond to a proposal that would enable them to re-enter full communion with Rome.

I have to say it is pretty hard to see agreement being reached given the noises that some of the SSPX bishops have been making publicly, the sort of stuff they have on their websites, and the views of many of the laity who attend their masses.

But still we should be praying hard that this time it does come off!

First out of charity for those attending SSPX, whose access to several sacraments is questionable (I doubt whether their confessions or marriages, both of which require jurisdiction, are valid for example, not withstanding some of the convoluted arguments some canonists put forward on this subject).

Secondly, out of concern for the unity of the Church. The desire to cut off the prospect of formal schism should be important to all of us.

And thirdly for us! Imagine the impact that the return of so many traditionalists could make to the Church in terms of the balance of forces, and the advantages of the special canonical structure that is apparently being offered.

Go here for more:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness....then and now

Today is the feast of the birth of St John the Baptist, and the story of his conception, birth and life, has, I think a few salutary messages for us in our situation today.

First, it illustrates the axiom that what seems difficult or even impossible to us is always possible for God. St John's parents Elizabeth and Zachariah, you will recall, were both old and childless. When given the news by the Angel Gabriel that his wife would have a child, Zachariah was disbelieving.

Traditionalists should take heed of this I think. We still seem intent on disbelieving the good news that the TLM is back. Certainly it is an initiative of this Pope, and still faces enormous opposition. The next Pope (may he not take office for many years yet!) may or may not have the same appreciation of the importance of liturgy. But I think it will be very hard now to totally reverse direction on this.

Secondly, St John the Baptist reminds us that spending a long time in the wilderness can be a positive thing! St John the Baptist lived as a hermit in the desert for many years before embarking on his short period of ministry - in fact Luke 3:1 places the start of St John's ministry as between 27 and 29 AD, so not that much earlier than that of Our Lord.

Thirdly, the story reminds us that when God wants things to change, he generally starts slowly, and allows things to build momentum. St John went about the Jordan area preaching the baptism of repentance. Our Lord had barely started his public life by the time St John was imprisoned by Herod and then executed. Yet two millennia later, we continue to celebrate not just St John's heavenly birth but also his earthly birth.

Vatican II is not the first Council of the Church to lead to an aftermath of heresy and crisis. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI has previously pointed to the Council of Nicaea in 325 as having some close parallels to the experience of our own times.

Nicaea, you might recall, condemned the Arian heresy. Yet in the years immediately afterward, virtually all the bishops of the Church became Arians. It was only really the persecution of Julian the Apostate (who hated Christianity in any form, and so those in power - who just happened to be Arian - bore the brunt of his views) that really turned things around for orthodoxy.

When the final restoration came at the Council of Constantinople in 381 it was pretty much an anticlimax - only 148 bishops attended, half the number of Nicaea. In fact, given that the Pope was represented it was only in retrospect, in view of the universal and enthusiastic acceptance of its decisions that it is even accepted as an Ecumenical Council.

We too must hope and pray, trusting in God's love for his Church. Our task is to listen for that voice in the wilderness, calling us to repent and do what we can to prepare for the Kingdom of Heaven. I'll write more on some ideas about what I think that can include doing later in the week!

Anniversary of the ordination of Fr Michael McCaffrey FSSP

And please pray today, especially for Fr Michael McCaffrey FSSP, ordained two years ago today in Adelaide Cathedral, and now serving in the FSSP's Parramatta apostolate. The photos below are from his first mass and ordination respectively.

Past posts of interest...on the TLM and the NO

A reader suggested that I do a Fr Z style pointer to past posts that you may have missed given that I tend to write rather long posts, making going back to find older ones a bit of an effort....

Rather than pointing to everything tht might be of interest in one go, I thought I might do this thematically. So to start off with, working through some issues to do with the liturgy raised by the return of the TLM to the mainstream.

Calendar reform

The most recent installment was sparked by some comments of Cardinal Castillon, suggesting that where holy days of obligation have been shifted to the Sunday, traddies will have to do likewise - And now for the bad news...

And for some previous context, the saga started here, with the news that the English bishops had sought a ruling on celebrating Holy Days shifted to Sundays: On bishops, calendars, and b****s

Continued here, with Give us back our feast days

And included some suggestions on what to do about it in more on calendar reform.

A poignant side note comes with the story of Pope Paul VI realising what he had done when he abolished the Octave of Pentecost....On octaves.

Altar girls

The cancelled Cardiff Traditional Latin Mass and some commentary on it, when the locals insisted on a woman in the sanctuary ....Cardiff Mass and related matters

And just so everyone is prepared next time around, the state of the law on the subject of who serves at the altar: More on altar girls

Kneeling to receive on the tongue

There have been noises from people with Vatican connections all year suggesting that the practice of kneeling and receiving on the tongue should come back into vogue. The Australian bishops have been trying to move us in the opposite direction, introducing new rubrics around bowing. Then, on Corpus Christi, the Pope set the example...

A guide to your rights on the subject - Your right to kneel

The situation in Australia - On kneeling for communion

A suggestion for a campaign....A campaign against communion in the hand...

And for a little humour, as well as some useful information on which knee is which...more on knees and kneeling.

And on restoring the sense of the sacred in the novus ordo liturgy

Read Archbishop Coleridge's pastoral letter on the liturgy and cheer yourself up!

Monday, 23 June 2008

Anniversary of ordination - Fr Glenn Tattersall and Fr John Fongemie FSSP

Say a prayer today, if you would, for the conversion of Father Glenn Tattersall, and for Fr John Fongemie, whose anniversary of ordination it is today. They were both ordained for the FSSP by Bishop Manning of Parramatta at the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Wentworthville in 2001.

Fr Fongemie has, alas returned to the US now, apparently to the Maple Hill, KS apostolate of the Fraternity.

Fr Tattersall serves Melbourne' s Traditional Latin Mass community.

The photos are from Sydney's Maternal Heart website.

On minimalism...

In response to my post urging a campaign to restore Holy Days of Obligation to their proper date a few days ago, a commenter, Peter pointed out that in reality, feasts such as Corpus Christi tend to be poorly attended by traditionalists.

Perhaps that isn't true everywhere, but it certainly accords with my observation. It set me to wondering about other aspects of traditional practice that are now largely voluntary such as the Eucharistic fast, abstinence on Friday, devotions and so forth.

Saving the liturgy is not enough

Fr Zulsdorf has been running the line, save the liturgy, save the world. I do agree with this.

But my suspicion is that if we want Catholicism to regain (practicing) adherents - and here I mean targeting the 86% of those who tick the box on the census form claiming to be catholics, but rarely darken the door of an actual church - restoring the sense of the sacred in the liturgy is only a necessary but not sufficient step.

My theory is that we also need to persuade the hierarchy to bring back some of the traditional disciplines. Not to mention insist on some orthodoxy.
In short we need not just to restore the 'cult', the way we worship, but also also the creed (what we believe) and the code (how we act). Restoring the cult will go a long way to achieving this of course: lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing). But I don't think it will be enough by itself.

Why asceticism was dropped

The move to make practices largely voluntary back in the 1960s reflects, I think, some very bad psychology, sociology and anthropology. The rationale at the time, as far as I can gather went something along the lines that the rules reflected a kind of minimalism - encouraged people to do only what they had to, but didn't really encourage anyone to strive for perfection.

So, the argument went, take away the minimalist requirements, urge them to strive to do more, and everything would be great! Giving up meat on Fridays, for example, seems pretty trivial at one level. Surely if we were all striving for perfection, we would do so much more!

The only problem was, so the defenders of this view go, that the rule changes coincided with a time of self-indulgence, when asceticism itself began to seem pointless. And this view was compounded by a failure to actually take up the Vatican II agenda of educating the laity.

In reality such an approach was surely always doomed to failure. It missed the point that practices like fish on Fridays help create a sense of community solidarity, supporting the Catholic culture. It missed the point that it is easier to do something penitential if everyone else around you is doing it too. And most of all, it it assumes that not only are we all striving for perfection, but that we actually a good way along the path.

The reality, unfortunately, is that despite our best intentions, we all tend fall back to doing the minimum at times. And for many of us, those times can last a lot of the time!

Religious communities (at least the ones who haven't completely lost their way) understand this - though they demand a lot from their members, they have authority and support structures, not the least of which is the other members of the community, in place to help everyone meet the requirements of a demanding day-to-day life. But for the laity, those structures have been broken and not replaced as yet.

Towards a sociology of religion

John Senior's book on Catholic culture made one observation that rather appealed to me, and that is that the particular genius of the Rule of St Benedict is that it recognises that in Plato's division of the world into judges, soldiers and farmers, most of us are farmers, notionally with lead in our souls rather than silver or gold! St Benedict's Rule, he argues, is a spirituality of the ordinary life, aimed at the farmers of this world: for most of us need frameworks for times of prayer, for ascetic practice, for silence.

In every age, one might argue, some few are called to the ascetic extremes of practice, and given the grace to carry it out - depending on the exigencies of the times, they will be the martyrs, the desert monks, or Carthusians. The majority of people, however, need a lot more help to achieve holiness, and it is for this group that practices are important.

The sociologist Rodney Stark adopts an economic rationalist approach to much of his analysis that needs to be overlaid with the concept of vocation and grace. Nonetheless, I do think there is something in his argument that religious groups can essentially be classified into three types, high, medium and low tension. Religions that are at a 'high tension' from their surroundings demand a lot of those who adhere to their creed, and are inevitably pitched at a small elite (essentially sects).

Those religious groups whose tension is set too low, however, not demanding enough from adherents, inevitably secularize, with adherents becoming indistinguishable from the general population. A religion, he suggests, must require sacrifice from its adherents: the easier it is to be a member, the less desirable being a member is!

Stark's analysis points to one of the reasons why the dumbing down of catholicism - including the failure to insist that moral teachings actually be followed - has led to such a dramatic collapse in the number of people who actually turn up to mass.

The challenge ahead

And Stark's work also has some lessons I think for traditionalists in this transitional time.

Up until now, being a traditionalist has been toward the 'high tension' end of the scale - there was a stigma attached to being a traditionalist, and many traditionalists adopted practices such as longer than the minimum fasts, wearing head coverings for women, and so forth as a badge of that identity. But the increased acceptance of the TLM since Summorum Pontificum could easily lead to the loss of that sense of tension.

Now if our increased acceptance can be channeled so as to become a force for the re-evangelisation of the rest of the Church; for increased insistence on the practice of what the Church teaches, for example, and a rebirth of orthodox theology, we could turn that acceptance into a strong positive. The Catholic Church could once again be seen as a medium tension religion edging upwards on the scale.

So far though, I haven't seen much evidence of an evangelising spirit coming from traddies.

Sure we applaud when the Pope gives communion on the tongue. But do we demand that right in our local non-trad churches?

We claim to like the idea of celebrating feasts such as Corpus Christ on their actual date - but do we actually turn up at mass on the day?

There seems to me a real danger that we will all let out a sigh of relief that going to our local mass is no longer quite as hazardous to our spiritual health as it used to be, and traditionalism as a force will fizzle out.

Why, after all, join the FSSP to become a priest if you can say learn the TLM at your local seminary and say it regularly?

And for the lay person, if your local TLM doesn't promote traditional values and theology as your old 'ghetto' community used to, at least it is more convenient.

So the challenge for us at this time, is, I think, to use the increased acceptance of the traditional mass as a lever for evangelisation. A means of bringing the Catholics estranged by the events of the last forty years back into the Church before it is too late for them. An approach to persuading young people that despite the twaddle they were fed at school, Catholicism is actually truth. And of using the introduction of the traditional mass more widely as a means of catechizing a generation who missed out on learning about the practices of their religion.

This won't be an easy task.

But we really are all called to perfection.

And it is the difficult times like our own that God typically calls forth great saints. One of those from an other such era, St Teresa of Avila, urged everyone to strive to be a great saints. We all need to consider then, what we can do, whether small or large, for the cause of building up the Church and converting Australia.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxis...and lack thereof - Brisbane strikes again

The fact that it is the bishops, and not the Pope, who should apologise for the scandal of sex abuse in the Church, and its continued mishandling has once more been highlighted. The Sun-Herald's Kate Dennehy reports today:

"THE Australian Catholic Church has been embroiled in controversy, three weeks before the Pope makes his historic visit to Australia, over a convicted pedophile who is still serving as a priest.

In defiance of the Pope, the Archdiocese of Brisbane continues to allow a convicted pedophile to remain a priest and celebrate Mass next to a school.

The Sun-Herald has learnt that the priest - Ronald John McKeirnan, 69, of Toowong in Brisbane's west - enjoys the support and protection of high-ranking church officials, including Archbishop John Bathersby, despite serving a year in prison in 1999 for molesting nine boys in the 1960s and 1970s.

The decision to support Mr McKeirnan conflicts with a statement by Pope Benedict XVI in April in which he said the church "would absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry … Who is guilty of pedophilia cannot be a priest."

The Pope will arrive in Australia on July 13 in the lead-up to World Youth Day celebrations in Sydney.

Mr McKeirnan, a former deputy director of Brisbane Catholic Education who now works on church websites and conducts private Masses for other priests, pleaded guilty on two separate occasions to abusing children."

It is hard to see any justification whatsoever for this continued tolerance of pedophiles in the priesthood. Last week when I read a report of conference saying nothing had been learnt from the handling of these cases in the past, I took it as yet another attack from the forces of secularism. But it seems we just keep handing them the ammunition...

Mass at Notre Dame de Paris

While much of the focus has been on the Mass at Westminister Cathedral, the other significant event this week was the Traditional Latin Mass celebrated at the beautiful Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

This was the first public traditional Mass celebrated in the Cathedral since 1988 (when Cardinal Lustiger celebrated Mass the day after Archbishop Lefebvre's infamous ordinations in an attempt to reduce tensions with traditionalists).

The Mass was preceded by a procession from St Eugene in the ninth Arondissement, and ended with prayers to Our Lady.

There was apparently a strong turnout.

France, despite the strength of its traditional movement, has of course some of the more intractable bishops when it comes to the traditional mass. But the tide is clearly turning....
For more piccies, see Una Voce France, Le Forum Catholique,
Schola Satint-Cecile and the New Liturgical Movement.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Preparing for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

The theme of the Sixth Sunday, according to Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen (see, I read books by Carmelites too!), is the nourishment that God gives us in his mercy. He says:

"One thought emerges from today's liturgy in a special way and dominates all: God is a merciful Father who takes pity on us and nourishes our souls. Our souls are always famished, and we are always in need of nourishment to sustain our supernatural life."

This theme is summarised best, perhaps, in the Collect:"O God of all power and might, who art the giver of all good things; implant in our hearts the love of Thy name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness and by Thy mercy keep us in the same."

The source of this nourishment is set out in the Gospel, which is the (second) multiplication of the loaves and the fishes, as told by St Mark. The story, you might recall, tells of Our Lord having compassion for the people about to journey home, having fasted for three days.

The Introit and Offertory are closely related to the theme of the Eucharist as food for the journey of life. The Introit, for example, which starts 'The Lord is the strength of His people' can be read as a literal reference to the Eucharist, foreshadowed in the story of the loaves and the fishes. The Offertory takes up the journey theme of the journey, asking God to 'Perfect Thou my goings in Thy paths..' And the post communion asks that 'we who have been filled with Thy gifts may be cleansed by their virtue and strengthened by their help'.

The sub-theme though, is our need for God's mercy, the reason we need nourishment lest we faint on the journey, or fall away into sin. The Epistle (from Romans) focuses on our death to sin so that we can now 'walk in the newness of life'. The Gradual and Alleluia reinforce this message, talking about God as our hope, and our refuge.

The theme of our need for continuing conversion and repentance - and hence God's mercy before we venture to accept his gift of himself to strengthen us - is made particularly poignant at Matins.

The reading is from 2 Samuel 1-16, which tells the salutary tale of King David being reproved by the prophet Nathan for arranging the death of Urriah the Hittite so that he could marry Urriah's wife, Bathsheba.

I think the story has a possible link to the feeding of the crowd too (although Dom Gueranger sees no real connection), because to make his point, Nathan uses a parable about taking a rich man stealing a poor man's one lamb to feast a visitor when he had many flocks of his own from which he could have chosen from. We too can can our nourishment in forbidden places rather than that offered by the Lord.

In any case, the story reminds us that even the Lord's most devoted servants can fall, and fall badly. But all is not lost provided we truly repent, as David did. After all, it is not whether or not we sin that determines whether we become a saint, it is our response to it. If our fall spurs us to greater efforts, if we seek forgiveness from God, our sins too can be forgiven, so that we can again worthily receive Our Lord.

ABC quiz: Die carbon sucking scum!

Thanks to Fr Finigan of the Hermaneutic of Continuity for alerting us to a website 'Planet Slayer', sponsored by our taxpayer funded broadcasting service the ABC, and Film Victoria.

Professor Schpinkee's Greenhouse calculator, aimed at children, aims at showing you 'whether you are using more than your fair share of the planet's resources'.

It is pretty outrageous stuff.

The worst aspect of it is that falls under the ABC's 'Science' label!

In one of the games available, you can choose between various options - such as between a glass bottle, can or plastic bottle - and get a greenhouse rating for your choice. And get a politically correct accompanying commentary that says things like 'forget the packaging, its all cultural imperialism'!, 'meat is murder', or admonishes you for buying chinese made tea shirts. I'm surprised the meat marketing and trade organisations haven't complained.

I also thought the contrast between the ecologically sound khaki-dressed belly-button exposed 'Greena' and the nicely dressed girl in pink particularly insidious.
I couldn't bear to watch the cartoons (just the intro was enough to know what was coming).

It is the Greenhouse calculator though, is the most dangerous feature of the site. Three pigs are shown, the 'average Australian' pig and the 'green pig' for comparison purposes, and you. Your pig grows or shrinks as you make your choices (use of electricity, how much meat you eat, etc). At the end your pig explodes, telling you when you've had your share of the planet's resources (apparently my share of the planet is 3.7 years).

The implication of it is that most of us should be long dead (and perhaps should do the planet a favour by making it so?).

It does of course invite you to redo the quiz and make green choices enabling you to live longer (spent your dough on ethical investments instead of basics like food and rent and you can live forever!). I'm assuming it is really paid for by some 'ethical investments' fund scam given the way the results are structured.

Particularly as it is aimed at children (but in any case regardless of audience), this kind of fake pseudo-science and bad economics is irresponsible, disgraceful stuff.

Write and protest to the ABC and the Minister for Communications immediately. You can contact the ABC here. Details for contacting Minister Conroy can be found here. Film Victoria can be contacted here.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Feast of Pope St Silverius

Today is the feast day of St Silverius, who died of starvation in exile, probably in late 537, the victim of murky Byzantine politics in the form of the monophysite Empress Theodora, wife of Justinian.

Pope Silverius' predecessor, Agapetus, had stood up to Justinian, and deposed the monophysite Patriarch of Constantinople. On his death however Theodora demanded that the new Pope, Silverius, reinstate him. St Silverius refused, and with the connivance of the deacon Vigilius who had accepted a large bribe from Theodora, Pope Silverius was captured by Belisarius and imprisoned. The exact date of his death is unknown.

The postscript to the story is a positive one: Vigilius, on becoming Pope with the aid of Eastern help, seems to have repented of his previous behaviour and, despite previous promises made to Theodora, refused to endorse monophysitism.

Feast of St Benedict - Event alert

Any Benedictine Oblates (or fans of St Benedict) living in or around Sydney (or who can make it there) might want to consider attending the TLM at Lewisham on Friday 11 July at 7pm.

The proceedings will include the full traditional blessing of Benedictine medals, and veneration of the Relics of St Benedict and St Scholastica. Fr Wong will be the celebrant for the Mass.

Smash the television set? Dr Who and catholic values

Last Saturday I was reading John Senior's book, The Restoration of Christian Culture, whose main advice seems to be to smash your television set and read the great books of the past instead.

Now I don't normally watch much TV. But there are a few shows that can tempt me to break out of my news only regime. One of them is classic Sci Fi show, Dr Who.

So when on Sunday, someone alerted me to the availability of Dr Who's Season Four, not yet shown on Australian TV...temptation, temptation! Fortunately I'm running up against my download limit, so temptation has largely had to be resisted. I'm planning on a binge once I finish exams!

I have to admit though that as a general principle, while Senior's notion has some attractions, personally I find books much more dangerous than tv.

Both are really forms of escapism with some potential to stimulate thought - but for me at least, books are far more addictive, because once I start reading one, I find it very hard to put down. Accordingly, I identify strongly with St Jerome, who, after a warning dream, dumped his copy of Cicero out of his backpack lest it lure him into hell!

Television (even in the form of DVDs and internet accessible shows), on the other hand is generally neatly compartmentalised into episode-sized chunks. And there is so little on worth watching on the live networks, and most of that is on after my bedtime anyway, so it is relatively easy to restrict it to the odd hour now and again (and we all need to relax after all)!

The case for watching some tv...

In any case, Dr Senior notwithstanding, I do think there are a few good reasons for lay people at least to watch at least some television (beyond the news).

First to know what we have to confront in terms of the culture. I'm not advocating a regular diet of Big Brother or whatever the latest fad is, but an occasional glance to see whether that tv chef really is as awful as he's being made out to be might be important in terms of engaging people on their own terms when it comes to evangelization.

Secondly, given that people do watch this stuff, we need to find ways of counteracting it - for example by protesting against those shows that violate the bounds of acceptable behaviour, and supporting shows that do offer positive values, or explore issues in a serious way.

Most importantly though, television today has reached a degree of sophistication that make at least some shows at least as thought provoking as a great novel in my view.

House MD, for example, got a positive write up from a Vatican-linked commentator last year. Similarly, the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, as well as being a gripping saga which makes an intriguing play on many religious motifs, is in my view one of the most sophisticated and challenging analyses of the ills of contemporary society and the moral dilemmas of our time.

Dr Who

Dr Who, even in its relaunched form, I have to admit, is not quite in this category of sophistication. It has a nice dry sense of humour, and some good acting, but it is good clean escapism not really claiming to be anything more than that.

All the same, I have been intrigued by the way the 'relaunched' series generally seems to operate very firmly within a catholic moral framework, making use of catholic principles to work through the various conundrums the Doctor faces.

And it makes some rather cute pokes and plays on some theological ideas. In the 2007 Christmas special for example (yes Dulcie, I did get sucked in to watching some of the new stuff!), there are robots who look like angels, called the 'heavenly hosts' (they are supposed to provide information to those who request it). But when they remove their halos to reveal stubby horn-like protuberances (and start using their halos to kill people!) we are given a salutary reminder that angels, whatever their appearance, can be good or bad!

Then there are the Slythereen, the aliens from the very first series (recently repeated on ABC2). When I originally watched it, I had just finished reading some moral theology lecture notes stating that our bodies are not ‘mere dress’. Then, there they were, literally hanging their human 'body suits' in the closet (in the Cabinet Room of No 10 Dowling Street, they'd been busy taking over England).

The Slytherin, you see, had faked a rather stagey crash-landing that destroyed Big Ben, and then proceeded to try and take over Britain by pretending to be the Prime Minister (and assorted overweight hangers-on) fighting the evil alien invaders. Their game plan was to stymie the fight against the invaders at the source, starting by neutralising all of the alien-fighting experts (and of course it might have worked if it weren't for the Doctor!).

The Slytherin’s masquerade, however, is made faintly ridiculous by their constant farting (a little matter-exchange problem with their body suits apparently). And they all look forward to taking off their body suits, so they can hunt in their true form...

And just as an aside, the episodes showing the Blair-esq Prime Minister Harold Saxon, who turns out to be the Doctor's old Nemesis, the Master, have some priceless moments.

The problem of evil and suffering

Dr Who has always, of course, been about the good old-fashioned fight between good and evil, albeit in the form of evil aliens. The new Dr Who, however, has added an underlying theme of the problem of evil and suffering.

The Doctor, it must be said, is neither all-powerful or all-knowing, but he does have that little blue police box that can go backwards and forwards in time - so why can't he go back and stop some of the great horrors of history from ever happening, his companions ask?

The back story for the new series is that the Doctor is now the last survivor of his race, the Time Lords, who were wiped out of history by something the Doctor himself was forced to do in order to stop the Daleks from destroying all life apart from themselves. He didn't expect to survive himself - and suffers intense survivor's guilt as a result of his actions. Made all the worse by the fact that many years ago, the Time Lords sent him on a mission to destroy the Daleks before they began their mission of conquest - but the Doctor had baulked at committing genocide before they had actually done something wrong, and let them go.

There are of course no easy answers to the problem of suffering beyond its roots in our own propensity to sin and inflict the effects of that sin on others. The program doesn't shy away from this point.

The importance of family

And as a result of all that has happened to him, the Doctor seems to have gained a new respect for the importance of family for his companions - no matter how appalling, embarrassing and troublesome they might be - and we've met and kept in touch with the families of all three main companions so far.

In fact perhaps the most poignant episode of the whole show so far centred on Rose's (Companion No 1) desire to meet her Dad (Pete) who died when she was a baby. The Doctor takes her back in time, and, unable to help herself, she saves him, and the world starts to disintegrate around them.

That particular story works on a number of levels. First we learn that Rose's Mum, Jacqui, has painted a picture of Pete to Rose as the perfect husband and father,in fact 'the most wonderful man in the world' - when in fact he was a philandering conman, drifting from one failed get-rich-quick scheme to another. Nonetheless, he exemplifies a regular theme in the new Doctor Who, and that is that is good in everyone, and seemingly ordinary people are often capable of great sacrifice. There is also a lovely explanation of how everybody, no matter how seemingly unimportant, is a crucial:

“ROSE: But it's not like I've changed history. Not much, I mean... he's never gonna be a world leader, he's not gonna start World War Three or anything...

DOCTOR: Rose - there's a man alive in the world who wasn't alive before. An ordinary man, that's the most important thing in creation. The whole world's different because he's alive.”

I have to admit though that my favourite scene in this particular episode is the radiant happiness of the young couple who are trying to get married when they tell the Doctor all about how they met, and thank him for trying to save them. Their determination is nicely contrasted with the cynicism of the baby-boomer father of the groom who, when half the guests fail to turn up (swallowed by reaper-bat things), urges his son to rethink the whole thing, telling him ‘Maybe it's a Godsend. Gives you time to think. don't have to go through with it, not these days. Live in sin for a bit…In ten years time you'll turn round and say, "if only I could turn the clock back"!

Catholic principles for moral dilemmas

What I like most though has been the fact that the application of catholic moral principles has been the driving force for much of the drama.

In resisting an alien invasion, for example, what constitutes a legitimate response, what is going too far (just war principles)? In Season 1, for example, the Doctor lets a race of aliens go with a warning to sin no more (OK, so he doesn't quite say that, but that's the essential message) - but, corrupted by power, PM Harriet Jones goes ahead and wipes them out anyway, lest they come back. She comes to an untimely end. And is it acceptable to destroy the Earth, a planet full of innocent people, in order to save the universe from the Daleks?

These kind of issues keep coming back, over and over again. I'm pretty sure I've learnt more about the application of moral principles from thinking about some of these episodes than I did from the rather sparse examples given in my moral theology classes...