Sunday, 31 August 2008

Scripture Reading Plan Continued: the Book of Proverbs

As regular readers will know, I'm following a Scripture reading plan for lectio divina purposes, posted on New Liturgical Movement by a Benedictine monk, that more or less mirrors Matins. The plan sticks with the Wisdom literature for the moment, turning today to the Book of Proverbs.

Proverbs as lectio divina

Proverbs is a collection of the sayings of King Solomon (and a few other people) interspersed with material on the importance of wisdom. Much of the material is truly ancient, dating back to the time of Solomon (970-931 BC), with some probably added up to the time of Nehemiah (445-410 BC).

I have to say that I think this book poses a real challenge for a Bible reading plan of this kind: particularly once you get to the collections of pithy sayings (chapter 10 - 22). This is a book that deserves to be read at a leisurely pace, and its key sayings memorized. This is essential stuff, material that we should be teaching our children, going to key themes including things like respecting parents and teachers, being willing to learn, and the virtues! But it isn't really meant to be read straight through in one go.

Still, on the principle of getting an overview of the whole Bible, and steeping ourselves in it, I suspect the best approach is to read the couple of chapters set for each day through in order to get an overview, and then pick out one or two maxims to focus on each day. And next time around, pick out a few more...


The first section is a series of poems and instructions on wisdom (1-9:18), and talks about wisdom as the companion of God from the beginning, preparing the path for the revelation of Jesus as wisdom personified. Proverbs 8:22-35 is used in the liturgy for Our Lady.

There are then a series of 'sayings':
  • 375 proverbs of Solomon (Chapters 10-22:16)
  • 30 sayings of wise men (22:17-24:22), followed by more sayings of the wise men (24:23-34)
  • 128 proverbs of Solomon (25 - 29:27)
  • sayings of Agur (30:1-14)
  • numerical proverbs (30:15-33)
  • sayings of Lemuel (counsel of a mother to her son)
  • portrait of the ideal wife (31:10-31)

The reading plan

The plan allocates 2 or 3 chapters a day, so that the book is completed by September 11.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Gospel this week is from Luke 14, with the story of the healing of the man with dropsy, and the parable of selecting your place at the wedding feast. In the story on the healing, the focus is on a discussion with the Pharisees on the lawfulness of healing someone on the sabbath. Wouldn't you help someone who fell in a well, or trapped animal on the sabbath, he asks rhetorically? It is the inner self, as St Paul puts it in the Epistle, acting from love, and not mere external compliance with the law, that is important.

The parable focuses on humility - take the lowest place we are urged, for the host can always invite you to take a more honoured place, but being asked to take a less favoured position might be embarrassing....And as the communio (from Psalm 70) points out, justice is in God's hands.

The rest of the texts for the day resonate around these two themes. The Introit, from Psalm 85, is the plea for help and healing, and the collect asks for grace. The epistle (Ephesians 3: 13-21) reminds us that undergoing tribulations and humiliations serves God's glory, and bring us to his Kingdom (symbolised by the wedding feast), a theme picked up by the Graduale and Alleluia verses.

TLM Community directory Part 2: Liturgical and quasi-liturgical activities of a traditional mass community

Yesterday I made some suggestions about what information it would be nice to have about the Mass for a TLM community. Today I want to move on to a few other related issues.

Thinking about the perfect community

Now I want to say that my purpose here isn't really to provide a guide as to where we should move (though I dare say some would find that handy)! It is really more to encourage us all to think a little about what we would really like to see in our own communities, how they could grow in ways other than numbers.

One of the disasters of the forty years has, in my view, been the destruction of the catholic sub-culture - a sub-culture that helped people cope with the swirling currents of secularism that surround us. And so part of our task has to be to rebuild that - in new ways perhaps, for example through virtual communities like blogs, but also providing support structures in real physical communities.

The point is that our ability to progress toward perfection, to contribute to the building up of the Church, and to evangelization are not just individual endeavours, but take place as part of a community. The richer, the more perfect that cultural life the easier it is for us individually to progress - that's why after all monasteries (should) exist, why creating a new Christendom is important.

But in order to do that rebuilding, you have to know what the steps on the ladder toward perfection are; you need to map out where the lines of the ruined walls of Jerusalem run, and how high they need to be built in order that you can sketch out your building plan.

What are the steps on the ladder towards perfection?

If you only have a low mass for example, the next step up is a missa cantata. For that you need a choir. And on this, I read a great article the other day by Jeffrey Tucker, courtesy of a discussion on Mulier Fortis, called How to Start Your Own Garage Schola. Read it, its great. It provides a step by step plan on how to start from nothing. It provides a game plan that will take a long time before yielding results - but it does provide hope that itis possible!

Now yesterday I talked about the Mass itself. But the Mass by itself is obviously not enough - so what are your priorities in terms of other liturgical celebrations and devotions, surroundings, etc?

I did mention yesterday the practical aspects of the Church itself for example - location, shared or not. But there is obviously a whole lot more that could be talked about under that heading (though I think we may have already established a few days back an architectural hierarchy that goes something like Wigwam, Baroque, Perpendicular....!).

But today I want to focus on the other sacraments and devotions. So here is my first stab at a list....


By appointment; before/during Sunday Mass; before/after weekday mass; weekly fixed times; daily fixed times (and maybe I should just mention the St Philip Neri ideal of having a priest sitting in the confessional all day....!).

More than one priest available

Other sacraments

Occasional/Regular first communion/confirmations as required/each year
Baptisms, marriages on request

Divine Office

Sunday vespers used to be a fairly common liturgical function. But it is pretty rare these days. Still, I think it is important... So:

Sunday Vespers
Tenebrae at Easter time
Other regularly sung hours


I suspect this could get to be a pretty long list... and also I suspect the one which most varies between communities.

Benediction - weekly/monthly/occasionally
Adoration - ''
Rosary "
Holy Hour "
First Fridays/First Saturdays
Stations of the Cross (Lent)
Seasonal sacramentals

Other suggestions?

Friday, 29 August 2008

The TLM at Campion College

Thanks to Fr Blake of St Mary Magdalen blog for alerting me to the blog of Fr Richard Aladics, newly appointed chaplain of Campion College in Sydney.

Fr Aladics says the TLM weekly at Campion, Australia's only Catholic liberal arts college.

What does the ideal traditional (quasi) parish community look like?

There was a discussion going on over in the NLM facebook group a while ago on how to classify 'reform of the reform' parishes. It ended up in a proposal to provide a listing of parishes on the basis of things like altar arrangements, use of Latin, music, ceremonial, and so forth. And it occurred to me that it might be useful to be able to do something similar for TLMs.

Towards a more comprehensive TLM community listing

Now NLM was really only interested in the liturgy, and fair enough, you have to start with that. But of course most of what constitutes 'reform of the reform' according to the NLM criteria is stock standard stuff for the TLM (ad orientem, Latin, male altar servers, etc).

Now in a way it seems greedy to think about anything more than just expanding the availability of the Mass, and so up until now most of the TLM listings have just focused on the frequency with which it is offered.

Still, most of the Australian TLM communities, and many overseas as well, have been going quite a while now in some form or other, and it probably is appropriate for us to start thinking more systematically about how much of a sense of community we have, and how to build on that.
A strong community that is able to muster lots of outward solemnity in its celebrations for example, or offer strong catechesis, will help attract newcomers in. It provides a stronger support for us as we engage in the daily spiritual battle.

The trouble is, most TLM communities are non-geographical, and many people travel long distances to get to Mass. Each community generally only has one, at most two priests. There are typically (in Australia at any rate) no religious to help out. And that makes it hard to run many activities beyond the Mass.

So I think we need to think about what the most important things are, so we can think about how to build them.

Some possible categories?

Let me propose a few different categories of possibilities - Mass, Divine Office, catechesis, devotions, community activities including confraternities, guilds, etc, charitable activities, evangelization activities - to aid our thinking. But if you can suggest others, go ahead!

Now I suspect you could have a lot of debate about the relative importance of each of these categories (and by all means do so!), let alone the relative merits of the things one might put under each of these headings. But I'd also be particularly interested in adding to the list the things people already have in their particular community, or would really like to see, that I've missed.

So imagine you are thinking of moving towns, and are trying to decide where ideally you'd like to live. The only factor you are taking into account is what the TLM community in possible new locales has to offer. You look up a guide to TLM communities in order to make your choice. What information do you need? I'll start the ball-rolling with a few suggestions, but do jump in....

So I thought I'd start today just on the Mass, and then over the next day or two put up sme other categories (***apologies to the dozen or so sleepless in Sydney and a few other places who saw an earlier version of this piece with the whole big list!***).

Mass lising - what do we want to know?

  • Frequency: occasionally, monthly, weekly, daily, multiple times daily
  • Convenience of mass times: (a hard one to capture I know, but I'm thinking about those 2.30pm Masses on a Sunday, whether there is a mix of week day masses for workers and non-workers, etc)
  • Location: one fixed location or multiple, centrality/accessibility (that geographical issue); own church or shared
  • Type of Mass: dialogue mass; low mass with server responses; sung mass on Sunday/Holy Days; Solemn Mass on Sundays/Holy Days, daily sung mass (well I can dream can't I!)
  • Choir sings: mass with hymns; chant; chant and polyphony; regular orchestral mass (now if Christchurch Cathedral swapped their current novus ordo orchestral mass for a TLM one I'd even consider moving to New Zild...)
  • Vestments: Roman or Gothic ( I know, I know, but some people do apparently care!)

So what do you think? Suggestions and comments welcomed.

Next steps

What I'm mostly interested in is discussion of what a TLM community should look like. And of course there is room for variety! Personally, if I had a sung Mass every day I probably wouldn't care about anything else much, well apart from the Office of course (yep I'm praying for that Benedictine monastery!) but I suspect I might be in the minority on that...

It really shouldn't be a competition for who has the mostest - one well attended devotion is probably better than several sparsely attended ones for example, and no listing can capture that.

So I'd love to get suggestions and comments on my proposed categories, and particularly on what I've suggested around the Mass.

And then if people think it is worthwhile, maybe it might be worthwhile progressively accumulating the relevant information for Australian TLM communities (and encouraging others to do the same for other countries). What do you think?

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Feast of St Augustine

Today is the feast of St Augustine of Hippo, and it's hard to know where to start on this great saint! By far the most important of the Church Fathers (at least from a Western point of view!), and probably the most important of the doctors of the Church (though Dominicans will no doubt argue for the priority of St Thomas), there has been a big revival of interest in his theological writings in recent times.

And the thing about his writing is that it is very accessible - the Confessions and the City of God rightly remain classics, repaying constant rereading. But so to do works such as his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (one of his earlier pieces, and aimed at laypeople), commentary on the Psalms, and much more. So go and have a read of something he has written to mark the day over at New Advent!

Life of St Augustine

His life though is also a great story, and one with particular resonances for our age! Brought up by a (fervently) Catholic mother, St Monica, but not baptised, he was a teenage hoon. In the Confessions he recounts the story of going out with a gang of his friends and stealing all the fruit from neighbour's pear tree, and then trashing it.

As a young man he seems to have led a reasonably dissolute life, taking a mistress with whom he had a son, and pursuing one false philosophy or religion after another. He became the contemporary equivalent of a bright and very successful academic, teaching rhetoric in Rome and then at the Imperial Court in Milan.

Eventually, though, his mother's prayers paid off, and St Augustine was finally converted through the teaching of St Ambrose of Milan, who baptised him (pictured below). He headed home to Africa, converted the family house into a monastery with a few friends, and was quickly co-opted (despite his desires) as a priest then bishop.

He proved an exemplary bishop - disputing with heretics and protecting his people from error, encouraging them in the face of the collapse of the roman empire, and encouraging his priests to live holy lives in common (the surviving Rule of St Augustine used by many groups of canons regular almost certainly dates from this time in his life). He died in 430 even as the Arian Vandals were laying seige to the gates to Hippo, bringing with them the destruction of Roman civilization in North Africa.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

US Politics - Episcopal censures galore!

I've been trying to avoid the US election coverage as much as possible. I know the outcome will affect us here in Oz. But really its just all too depressing, and as I don't get a vote, there doesn't seem much point getting too excited.

But it is pretty hard to go past the fuss over pro-abortion 'Catholics' over the last week or so, and it has some obvious implications for us too (particularly with the Victorian Abortion Law proposals about to be voted on).

The Democrats: Pelosi, Biden and the bishops

It did seem to me that the Democrats had shot themselves in the foot choosing Obama - while he was certainly gaining momentum, wasn't much evidence that there was anything behind the rhetoric.

Now his cause has surely been shot to pieces by his selection of a Catholic pro-abortion running mate, a tactic that might have helped him - if the issue hadn't been helpfully poisoned by some outrageous claims by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Well, perhaps it won't play out that way, but it certainly can't be helping!

Pelosi was asked:

“...if [Obama] were to come to you and say ‘help me out here, Madam Speaker, when does life begin,’ what would you tell him? "

She replied:

“I would say that as an ardent practicing Catholic this is an issue that I have studied for a long time, and what I know is over the centuries the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition. And St. Augustine said three months. We don’t know. The point is it that it shouldn’t have an impact on a woman’s right to chose.”

What is interesting is that for once, quite a number of bishops have come out strongly condemning her comments. Now some of these, like Archbishop Chaput, have been pretty consistent on this kind of issues. But others haven't been as strong. And its the strength of the language in their various statements that really takes the issue up a level. Take for example this latest statement, by Cardinal Egan of New York, reported in The Creative Minority Report:

"Like many other citizens of this nation, I was shocked to learn that the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America would make the kind of statements that were made to Mr. Tom Brokaw of NBC-TV on Sunday, August 24, 2008. What the Speaker had to say about theologians and their positions regarding abortion was not only misinformed; it was also, and especially, utterly incredible in this day and age.

We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb.

In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions of theologians of any faith. Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being “chooses” to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name."

You can read other excellent statements, and details of the whole saga, on the same subject over at Fr Z.

Archbishop Burke

Interestingly, the outbreak of episcopal spine seems to have been stimulated by Archbishop Burke, newly appointed head of the Apostolic Signatura, who commented last week that politicians who publicly defend abortion should not receive Communion, and that ministers of Communion should be responsibly charitable in denying it to them if they ask for it, “until they have reformed their lives.”

Catholic News Agency reported that in an interview with the magazine Radici Christiane, Archbishop Burke pointed out that there is often a lack of reverence at Mass when receiving Communion. “Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily is a sacrilege,” he warned. “If it is done deliberately in mortal sin it is a sacrilege.”

"To illustrate his point, he referred to “public officials who, with knowledge and consent, uphold actions that are against the Divine and Eternal moral law." He then gave the example of politicians who "support abortion, which entails the taking of innocent and defenseless human lives. A person who commits sin in this way should be publicly admonished in such a way as to not receive Communion until he or she has reformed his life,” the archbishop said.

“If a person who has been admonished persists in public mortal sin and attempts to receive Communion, the minister of the Eucharist has the obligation to deny it to him. Why? Above all, for the salvation of that person, preventing him from committing a sacrilege,” he added. ..."

He also made some comments pertinent to the political reaction to Cardinal Pell's efforts in this area:

"Archbishop Burke also noted that when a bishop or a Church leader prevents an abortion supporter from receiving Communion, “it is not with the intention of interfering in public life but rather with the concern of the spiritual state of the politician or public official who, if Catholic, should follow the divine law in the public sphere as well.”

“Therefore, it is simply ridiculous and wrong to try to silence a pastor, accusing him of interfering in politics so that he cannot do good to the soul of a member of his flock,” he stated.

It is “simply wrong” to think that the faith must be reduced to the private sphere and eliminated from public life, Archbishop Burke said, encouraging Catholics “to bear witness to our faith not only in private in our homes but also in our public lives with others in order to bear strong witness to Christ.”

Getting tougher

The important context for all this is that back only a few months ago when the Pope visited the US, Pelosi and a number of other prominent Catholic dissenters publicly received communion at papal masses. And afterwards more than a few bishops came out with 'not my problem' statements, or at best rather belately and under pressure condemned their actions in a rather wishy washy way.

The times they are a long live our Pope!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Shaping the world of the future: Paul Keating on China

The Olympics, for all their faults have rather focused minds on the need to think through how we should respond to China's rise. So I was fascinated to read a speech today by former Prime Minister Paul Keating's calling for a new Enlightenment based on virtue and understanding, that draws heavily on some of the Pope's recent comments. And then to contrast it with an article in the Australian newspaper.

In essence, Mr Keating argues that if the West can't rise above its narrow-minded prejudices, it will be overtaken. It is a devastating analysis of the culture that draws heavily on some of Pope Benedict XVI's comments, and is well worth a close read even if you disagree strongly with where he is heading!

That said, my US (and likely some others!) readers might want to skip this one - it may well either discomfort or enrage you depending on your perspective on some of these questions...

A tale of two newspapers

The Australian today draws attention to the potential threat - the title of the article, Menace of the growing Red Fleet, says it all. It focuses on what (little) can be done military-wise in response, and basically argues that US has saved us before, we have to hope that they can do it again in the future.

The Sydney Morning Herald by contrast carries a speech by Mr Keating that points out some obvious fallacies in current US (and Australian) thinking, such as the idea that democratization will solve the problem (take a look at India and Pakistan he suggests). He argues that the approach implied by the direction of current US policy would be disastrous, not least because we are witnessing the eclipse of American power at the very same time as Russia and China are emerging nations that '...enjoy a power of galvanic action, politically and strategically, of the kind Europe had and used in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries'.

Have we become hollow men?

A lot of Mr Keating's arguments are not new - he has long argued that we are seeing a fundamental shift in the centre of gravity from Europe to Asia, and we need to come to terms with it, and find a way of building a new peace, rather than have it forced upon us. But he raises some important issues that Catholics should be thinking about in a framework that I think we can relate to (even for those of us, like myself who are rather less enamoured than he is of the last 'Enlightenment'!).

Mr Keating quotes some figures showing that 66% of the world's population now live in high income or high growth countries. He says:

"The key question now and the central one of this address is, can that two thirds of humanity, in those high income and high growth countries, assimilate that growth and prosperity, or will the condition itself corrode or hollow humanity out, slaking us of those earnest values and high convictions that have stood by us down through time.

Perhaps, more than that, will the seduction of secularity and self absorption lure us into a bubble of spiritless contentment, sustained only the inability of others to organise themselves effectively to disrupt or appropriate it?

Is it a case, as Pope Benedict recently remarked, that the Western world is a world 'weary of its own culture', a world 'weary of greed, exploitation and division, of the tedium of false idols and the pain of false promises'? That is, a world without a guiding light; one without absolute truths by which to navigate....

Benedict told us in Sydney that 'life is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful' and we know that whenever those objectives become subordinated, we become lost, in a morass of preferences and experiences uninformed by truth or ethics. Experiences, he went on to say, which detached from what is good or true, 'lead to moral and intellectual confusion and ultimately to despair'.

Are we capable - those of us in that opportune two thirds of humanity - of forging a second Enlightenment? One not solely dependent on science but one leavened by understanding and virtue, making the most of science. One which goes to the profound and innate dignity of every human life, transcending the old barriers of ethnicity and creed, and of course, geography.

In a world shrunk by transport and communications, vulnerable to shifts in climate and natural disasters and subject of devastating weapons and armouries, can a higher framework of co-existence obtain other than one governed by self interest or nationalism or indeed by a misplaced sense of superiority?

Benedict also told us in Sydney that the State cannot be 'the source of truth and morality'. That that source can only be a set of truths and values which devolve to what it means to be human, one to each other, society to society, state to state. In Benedict's terms, one of God's creatures.

We are currently living through one of those rare yet transforming events in history, a shift in the power in the world from West to East. For five hundred years Europe dominated the world, now for all its wealth and population it is drifting into relative decline.

Will our understanding of this transformation and our acceptance of its equity for the greater reaches of mankind, lead us to a position of general preparedness of its inevitability, or will we cavil at it in much the same way as Europe resisted the rise of Bismarck's creation at the end of the nineteenth century?"

Can the West be saved?

The central part of Mr Keating's speech is a rather alarming analysis of the threat to world peace posed by Russia, and the current move toward nuclear rearmament by a number of nations, including Britain. The problem of Russia, he argues, has largely been created by shortsighted US policies of the past. The threat, he argues, can be defused, but only by creating new modes of governance suitable for a globalised world.

He concludes:

"Against this backdrop remains the open question about 'the West' and its fibre. The question which was resoundingly answered by that generation who suffered the Depression and the Second World War and who delivered us into a new era of peace and prosperity. Is our culture a culture made compliant by too much coming too easily; producing a state of intellectual and spiritual lassitude which can only be shaken by the gravest threats; be they economic, environmental or indeed strategic?

As that pendulum swings from West to East, are the motivations for the West's former primacy swinging with it? Has the bounty of science and industrialisation with its cornucopia of production and wealth, encouraged us too far away from simpler requirements and concern for the needs of all?

Was the twentieth century a psychological age as Roger Smith in his History of Human Sciences pointed out, in which the self became privatised, while the public realm; the realm critical to political action for the public good, was left relatively vacant? As societies, have we taken our eye off public affairs for way too long?

Let me return to the theme I touched at the beginning of my remarks. Can we, all of us, assimilate; adjust ourselves to a constancy of peace and prosperity without lessening our regard for those enlivening impulses of truth and goodness? The search, as Benedict said, for what is good, beautiful and true.

A new international order based on truth and justice founded in the recognition of the rights of each of us to live out our lives in peace and harmony, can I believe, provide the only plausible long term template. The old order of victorious powers, of a compromised UN, a moribund G8 with major powers hanging on to weapons of mass destruction, is a remnant of the violent twentieth century. It cannot provide the basis for an equitable and effective system of world governance.

Just as world community concern has been ahead of the political system on issues such as global warming, so too world community concern needs to galvanise international action to find a new template for a lasting peace. One embracing all the major powers and regions. This can be done but it requires leadership and imagination. It cannot be done without understanding and virtue.

The philosopher Emmanuel Kant said some day there will be a universal peace; the only question, he said is, will this come about by human insight or by catastrophe, leaving no other outcome possible? Humankind demands that that proposition be settled in the former and not the latter."

Where to next?

Now personally I believe that there might be an alternative to the human insight or catastrophe dichotomy, namely the realization of the importance of God.

But all of this does provide a rather compelling case for the urgency of the task of creating a new Christendom, and the urgency of both the 'new' evangelization of the West, pushing ahead faster on some old-style evangelization of the East. It also points to the urgency of Catholics engaging in the public square on some of these debates.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Good news from Brisbane: action at last!

Today really is evidently a very good news day, with Cath News reporting the release of a letter from Archbishop Bathersby dealing with the ongoing festering sore of St Mary's 'Catholic' parish in Brisbane.

St Mary's you will recall, is the parish where huge number of people were not properly baptised over a period of some twenty years, where a Buddhist statue sat in front of the tabernacle for several weeks, and where numerous other abuses continue to be perpetrated.

The Archbishop, it seems, has been asked to report back to Rome on what is happening in response to all of this - hence his letter, which you can read here. It refers to the invalid baptisms, the Buddha affair, and the continuing disrespect the parish accords to the Archbishop and the hierarchy generally. And it points to problems in doctrine, liturgy and governance.

Essentially, the plan seems to be to close down the parish - but the letter notes that the parish is already effectively in schism. According to media reports, the parish is meeting tonight to discuss its response.

So please pray that the priests and laity involved repent and are reconciled to the Church. And for Archbishop Bathersby, as he takes the necessary next steps to deal with this sad situation.

Liturgy, inculturation and concelebration: Mgr Ranjith on the restoration!

New Liturgical Movement has posted a translation of some very important comments by H.E. Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, made in a newspaper interview on the Feast of the Assumption.

If we didn't already know we were in the midst of the restoration of proper liturgical norms, you couldn't get the message more clearly than some of this fighting stuff!

There is quite a lot on false notions of inculturation, the deformation of the liturgy after Vatican II, and the need for a change in course to address the empty churches that have resulted. He notes that Mass must have moments of silence, of inwardness and personal prayer. He suggests that concelebration should be reserved to special occasions.

Most importantly, though, he gives a spirited defense of the TLM as a tool for evangelisation:

" DT: From Asia one also hears voices which say that the debate on the Tridentine liturgy is typically European and has nothing to do with the concerns of the people in mission areas. How do you see this?

MR: Well, these are individual opinions that cannot be generalized for the Catholic Church. That the whole of Asia should reject the Tridentine Mass is inconceivable. One must also beware of generalisations such as "the old Mass does not fit for Asia".

It is precisely the extraordinary rite liturgy which reflects some Asian values in all their depth. Above all the aspect of Redemption and the vertical perspective of human life, the deeply personalised relationship between God and the priest and God and the community are more clearly expressed in the old liturgy than in the Novus ordo.

The Novus ordo by contrast stresses more the horizontal perspective.... Without Good Friday, the Last Supper has no meaning. The Cross is the marvelous sign of God's love, and only in relation to the Cross is true community at all possible. Here is the real starting point for the evangelisation of Asia."

Do go and read the whole thing.

Walling off the Church from the past: we are all contemplatives now!

I mentioned yesterday that I was interested in the way that some ideas had simply been dropped from current discourse in the Church, and I thought I'd talk today about one of these, namely the idea of spiritual progress leading up to contemplative prayer.

We want contemplation, and we want it now!

I mentioned yesterday an article by Patricia Wittberg. One of the things she noted in talking to conservative religious orders was that they generally did not articulate a sense of progress through spiritual stages - the traditional purgative, illuminative and unitive ways. Instead, the expectation was that contemplation was not only open to all, but something one should expect to experience immediately. Certainly even the better modern texts, such as that by Spiritual Theology by Fr Jordan Aumann, though they talk about growth in holiness and the means of achieving it, avoid talking much about the traditional threefold way.

We've all seen the manifestations of the more extreme end of this philosophy - in my own diocese there are constant ads for workshops and contemplative prayer groups, many of them run by religious. Methodologies like 'centering prayer' have become immensely popular.

Similarly, in the moral theology course I've just finished, we did cover St Augustine and St Thomas' interpretation of the Beatitudes as mapping out the stages in the spiritual journey. But the key text used was a book on the Beatitudes by the late Fr Pinckaers that essentially argued against any such linear view. I think his view reflects the new orthodoxy. And it runs against many centuries of consistent teaching on the spiritual life.

The traditional path to contemplation

The traditional three stage typology was never regarded as hard and fast - St Teresa of Avila for example talks about people wandering around her seven mansions in different orders to the ones described: the Holy Ghost moves as he wills! Still, the basic point was that for most people, tackling contemplative prayer too soon could be positively dangerous. It is a step to be taken usually only on the advice of a spiritual director.

The argument is that one must first be well grounded in what God demands of us in keeping the commandments, which requires that we be well educated in the primary and secondary moral precepts so that we can focus on conquering mortal sin. Once we have achieved that level of control, we can move to a focus on cultivating the virtues. And only once some level of progress has been made on these fronts should we aspire to more. There are types of prayer and meditation that are appropriate for each level of progress - but contemplative prayer starts once we are fairly advanced, not before we have even really started.

'Beginners' in the spiritual life are ignored

In the moral theology course I did, which I suspect is fairly typical based on a perusal of other course outlines and textbook lists, the approach was to focus mainly on the primary moral precepts ('do good, avoid evil'), the idea of cultivating the virtues (without much specific content being provided), and to attempt to foster an attitude of 'discipleship' that would enable us to discern the appropriate action in the circumstances. That's an approach that could work if everyone taking the course was already well-grounded in the commandments, and was truly in the illuminative way. But I personally very much doubt that was the case!

The contemporary literature (and the typical moral theology course, my own included) spends a lot of time attacking the old 'manual tradition' for its detailed consideration of individual cases. But in the face of the widespread ignorance and disregard of the moral law amongst catholics today, there seems to me a pretty strong case for a return to more practically oriented guides such as Prummer's Handbook of Moral Theology (a one volume English summary of his 3 vol Latin manual), or even more recent but eminently practical texts aimed at a wider audience such as Fr Kenneth Baker's Fundamentals of Catholicism.

The consequences - religious feeding the anyone can do it if they try mentality

The reasons for the careful and systematic progress advocated by the traditional literature was the immense danger of delusion. Today however the popular paradigm, feed by endless seminars, books and prayer groups, many of them penned or led by religious, has become a dangerous egalitarianism and a sort of pelagianism - the idea that contemplative prayer is work we do, rather than being a gift of the Holy Ghost. It is a very small step indeed from this to believe that anything we do that might objectively be a sin really isn't - - because we still feel we are 'right' with the Spirit!

I do believe that we are all called to holiness, to become saints; and that failing to strive for perfection inevitably leads to going backwards! That doesn't mean though that we are going to get there instantly. The contemplative prayer push is I think well intentioned - but at the same time, is just another manifestation of the instant canonization at funerals mentality that we often see.

It seems to me that the idea that we must systematically progress in the spiritual life is one of those ideas we really do need to reconnect the wider Church to.

So we need good catechesis, and we need priests (and in their absence well trained religious) willing to be spiritual directors.

And in the meantime, we should all turn to the classics such as Tanqueray's The Spiritual Life, or Garrigou-Lagrange's Three Ages as a starting point - unless anyone can suggest anything that surpasses them?!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Reconnecting the Church to its past: the case of religious life

One of the comments by Steve Skojek that really struck me in the Inside Catholic debate on angry trads was about the fact that the modern church is ‘is in large part walled off from much of the past teachings and traditions of the Church’.

Skojek puts his comment in the context of the ‘hermaneutic of continuity’ that the Pope talks about. But it struck me that the issue is much wider than the way the term ‘the hermeneutic of continuity’ is typically used.

The issue is not just interpreting the documents of Vatican II or more recent statements of the Magisterium in the light of tradition. It is also about aspects of Church teaching and traditions that are simply neglected or ignored altogether today.

Religious life is an interesting case study of this. There is a revival of religious life going on today, in the conservative and traditional religious orders, as the picture above of the clothing of two novices from the blog of the Abbey of Walburga illustrates. In fact this piccie comes due to an alert by The Anchoress, who provides regular updates on recruitment to religious orders. She provides some nice links on stories about the strong growth being experienced in the more conservative and traditional orders to explore on this topic.

Yet there is something curious in itself about the idea of the ever increasing number of monk and nun blogs - how after all did we get from all those books by 'a Benedictine of Stanbrook' or 'A Carthusian', to the posting of detailed cvs of religious in some monasteries on the web (have a look at St Walberga's site for an example; another one is Regina Laudis)? Or to the point where one can follow the progress of a religious from their aspirancy through to clothing in the habit, and taking of first and solemn vows? Let alone to the well known personalities such as Fr Groeschel, or for that matter, Le Barroux's late abbot, Dom Gerard Calvet. I'm not necessarily opposed to some of this (although I do have some reservations about some of this) but I do find it curious.

Religious life now and then

Then I came across an article by Patricia Wittberg (Journal of the Sociology of Religion, 1997) on various neo-conservative religious communities. Its a nice case study of the issue, and I think it has wider implications for the debate on topics such as reform of the reform.

Essentially, Wittberg took a sample of relatively new but traditionally oriented communities – such as the Petersham Benedictines (a double monastery - technically two separate communities - of Benedictines based in Massachusetts, pictured below) and similar groups - and interviewed them about their theology of religious life. She then contrasted their responses with pre-Vatican II sources on spirituality such as Tanquerey's classic book.

Now this approach is a bit simplistic – it glosses across differences in charisms for a starter. Still, she does manage to produce an intriguing list of ideas – such as the objective superiority of the religious state, the idea of progressing through grades of holiness, the anonymity of the cloister, and the idea that ascetic practices help conquer the tendency to sin - that don't feature much in the discourse these days, even in the new conservative orders.

Now let me be clear that I'm not suggesting for a moment that every pre-Vatican II idea that has been discarded should come back - we do live in a very different world, and trying to recreate the 1950s (or any other specific golden era) is neither possible nor desirable in my view. Still, I think that attachment to at least some of these concepts is at the root of the distinction between the neo-conservative and traditionalist projects generally, and so worth exploring a bit.

Some disclaimers

Also, let me be clear that even where I disagree with some of the approaches taken, I’m not attacking either individual members, or the leaders of orders past or present!

On issues like the abandonment of the traditional liturgy, habits, and other monastic practices I accept that many (perhaps even most) truly thought (and may still think) they were doing the right thing. Others simply followed their leaders - jumping off the cliff on this as on so many other issues in the 1960s and 70s such as liturgy - in the name of religious obedience.

Many were utterly convinced that what they were doing would lead to a renaissance in the Church. Others weren't necessarily so convinced, but did what they were told anyway out of obedience, even when they saw the vast exodus of monks and nuns from the cloister. Consider for example this recently reported comment on the liturgy, made by a priest who attended the recent Latin Mass training program in the UK:

"As a priest in my 83rd year I have to make a confession. I implemented the Pauline reforms without understanding or sensitivity. I did it relying on the advice and coercion of my bishop and diocesan authorities. As I did it I witnessed the hurt and pain of many of the devout, so many of the ardent became lukewarm, many lapsed.

I thought I acted rightly but in my 59 years of priesthood I recognise that that which we hoped for has not come to pass.I do welcome a careful reappraisal and assessment of what has been done since my ordination, especially by the younger clergy. In order to do that they must learn something of the spirituality that brought men of my generation in vast numbers to the seminary....."

I suspect there must be more than a few religious - and Vatican bureaucrats - who if they were being honest with themselves would now say the same thing about the 'renewal' of religious life after Vatican II.

People faced tough choices back then, and I agree that erring on the side of obedience to superiors is generally the preferable path.

But of course as a traditionalist I personally applaud those – like Dom Gerard of Le Barroux, and Dom Augustin Joly of Flavigny - who acted to preserve the traditions they had made their vows in!

And so I'd like to reflect a little on the differences in approach that has arisen between traditionalist monasteries, such as Le Barroux, Fontgambault and others, and the newer traditionally oriented but not traditionalist communities, and see what we can learn. More soon...

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus our Life

Father Gabriel of St Mary Magdalene OCD sees this Sunday's dominant theme as the thought that Jesus is our life, symbolised in the Gospel with the story of the raising to life of the son of the widow of Naim (Luke 7). He says:

"Whatever good there is in us is the fruit of His grace, by which we remain steadfast in good (Collect) and live in the Spirit (Ep); by His grace we rise from sin (Gosp), and eating His flesh, we nourish His life within in us (Communion). Without Jesus we would abide in death; without Him we could never live the glorious life of the Spirit described by St Paul in today's Epistle (Gal 5:25-6, 6:1-10)."

Sequela Christi

But I wonder if there isn't another, perhaps even more important theme in this Sunday's texts. It seems to me that the Gospel provides a model of how we should respond to other's sorrows and problems. When Jesus saw the widow with her dead son, he was 'moved with mercy towards her, and he said to her weep not!'. Now we of course cannot literally (well normally at least!) go around raising the dead, but we maybe we can metaphorically, responding in the terms suggested in the Epistle on not provoking one another, and instead bearing one another's burdens.

Last week we were enjoined to trust in divine providence, and this weeks propers pick up that idea - the Introit starts:"Incline Thine ear, O Lord: save thy servant, O my God, that trusteth in thee..."

But today's readings reminds us that God often effects that help through others, if they only respond to the impulses of grace he gives, and pay heed to the call to do good works when they see the opportunity. The Alleluia reminds us that 'the Lord is a great King...', and a king has servants to do his will. And the Offertory is the prayer of someone whose prayer has been heard:'...he had regard to me, and He put a new canticle into my mouth..'.

Fr Sean Finnigan of Valle Adurni, like many around the world, is stuck with worshipping in a wigwam (although from the picture below, he's certainly done what he can with it).

Inspired perhaps by the visit of some priestly friends , he composed a prayer, a song in fact, which goes to the tune of "O Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz":

"O Lord, won't you build me a big baroque church?
My friends all have gothics — I'm left in the lurch!
Worked hard in this wigwam, no help despite research,
So Lord, won't you build me a big baroque church?"

And then in the comments box came this answer:

"Answer: No.

I will however provide miraculous funding if you undertake to consult an art historian, an architect (not merely a builder), and European painters and woodcarvers, for the production of a church in early 16th century perpendicular style (rood screen to be included).

Yours sincerely,


Now being a pre-modern kind of girl myself, I'm inclined to go with God on this one (not that I'd turn down a baroque church if it was on offer you understand) - I wonder if his largesse might be extended to the Antipodes?

Friday, 22 August 2008

Prince Christoph von Altenburg RIP

I attended the funeral on Wednesday of (if I've interpreted the genealogical charts properly!) one of the great-grandchildren of the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, Prince Christoph von Altenburg (though he did not use his title), and would ask your prayers for the repose of his soul.
Its always going to be an interesting funeral when the eulogiser opens up by saying, I have to start in 1273, when the Hapsburgs ascended to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire!

But if you are now expecting to hear about the bishops attending and a full traditional liturgy, you are going to be disappointed because in fact it was a well-attended but very Australian affair.

There was lots of Gregorian chant (the propers and ordinary from the Traditional Requiem), motets from a madrigal group, rather beautiful black vestments and a truly outstanding sermon on the Trinitarian relationships - but (an admittedly very reverently and nicely sung) novus ordo Mass.

But perhaps in this case that was not entirely inappropriate for a man who had developed a taste for the simple life. The Canberra Times reports (thanks to Cath News for the alert):

"From European royal to simple silversmith

He started life as Austrian royalty and ended it as a silversmith in Braidwood, still regarded as a prince among men due to his generosity, free spirit and compassion.

Christoph Altenburg was a member of the famous European Habsburg family, the son of an Austrian archduke, Clemens Salvator. When his father married, he changed the family name, later allowing the son to follow his destiny in Australia, pursuing everything from copper mining to silversmithing.

Mr Altenburg died aged 71 on Monday. More than 250 people packed St Bede's Catholic Church in Braidwood to farewell him yesterday. Silver candlesticks Mr Altenburg had crafted and wattle from his property, Anningie, adorned the altar, Father John Parsons leading a starkly beautiful requiem mass.

The Counts of Habsburg Arms were also displayed on the coffin, but there were few other references to his royal past.

Mr Altenburg was born in Wallsee, Austria, in 1937. The family lived at the Kaiser Villa in Bad Ischl during the war years, where Mr Altenburg's schooling was interrupted by the conflict.

He boarded and attended school in Ried and at a Benedictine monastery school in Seckau, where he had his first experience of silversmithing.
Despite his royal lineage, Mr Altenburg arrived in Melbourne in 1960 as a modest ten pound migrant.

His son Wasti told the congregation yesterday that after working on farms around Australia, mining in the Pilbara and studying silversmithing in Austria, Denmark and England, his father moved to Braidwood in 1974 and ''Braidwood possibly has never been the same since''.

''He enjoyed the freedom of Australia. People accepted him as Chris not Prince Christoph,'' Wasti said.

Mr Altenburg and his then wife Kirsty opened Studio Altenburg in the main street of Braidwood in 1978.

Family friend and Braidwood resident Professor Tony Milner said in his eulogy that Mr Altenburg ''always loved art and was an enormously creative person''.

His jewellery was worn by women around the world and his paintings with their ''irreverent social comment'' were sought after.
He started the Iron Corroboree outside Braidwood in 1985 as a celebration of all things metal.

But more than anything, Mr Altenburg valued relationships, often offering the hand of friendship to new residents to Braidwood.

''He gave people time, golden time, time without boundaries,'' Professor Milner said.

Mr Altenburg also loved a conversation, especially about politics and ''was not just a doer but a thinker and an explainer''. Family friend Allan Geier told the congregation Mr Altenburg was a ''big, beautiful man with a heart full of love, generosity and compassion''.

He moved to his property Anningie next to the Shoalhaven River outside Braidwood in 1994, declaring himself the Sultan of Anningie, a light-hearted nod to his royal heritage.

Mr Altenburg is survived by his former wife Kirsty, his children Wasti, Matilda and Francesca, and three grandchildren."

Assumption of Our Lady and the Dormition of Our Lady revisited...

Thanks to Sentire Cum Ecclesia for alerting me to some comments of the Pope on the Feast of the Assumption that are relevant to the question of the degree of certainty on the physical death of Our Lady. Pope Benedict XVI said (translation and photos from the Papa Ratzinger Forum):

"In the Bible, the last reference to her earthly life is found at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, which presents Mary gathered in prayer together with the disciples in the upper room, waiting for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14).

Following this, a twofold tradition - in Jerusalem and in Ephesus - attests to her 'dormition', as the Eastern [Christians] call it, her 'falling asleep' in God. This was the event that preceded her passage from earth into Heaven, which is the confession of the uninterrupted faith of the Church.

In the eighth century, for example, John Damascene, establishing a direct relationship between the 'dormition' of Mary and the death of Jesus, explicitly affirms the truth of her bodily assumption. In a famous homily, he writes: 'It was necessary that she who had carried the Creator as a child in her womb should live together with Him in the tabernacles of heaven' (Homily II on the Dormition, PG 96, 741 B).

As Vatican Council II teaches, the Most Holy Virgin Mary must always be part of the mystery of Christ and of the Church. In this perspective, 'just as the Mother of Jesus, glorified in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected is the world to come, so too does she shine forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come (cf. 2 Pt. 3:10), as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth' (Const. Lumen Gentium, 68).

From Paradise, the Virgin Mary, especially in their difficult times of trial, continues always to watch over the children that Jesus himself entrusted to Her before dying on the cross.

Assumed into heaven points out to us the ultimate destination of our earthly pilgrimage. She reminds us that our entire being - spirit, soul, and body - is destined for the fullness of life; that those who live and die in the love of God and of neighbor will be transfigured in the image of the glorious body of the risen Christ; that the Lord humbles the proud and raises up the lowly (cf. Lk. 1:51-52). This is what the Virgin Mary proclaims eternally with the mystery of her Assumption. May You be always praised, O Virgin Mary! Pray to the Lord for us."

I think the degrees of certainty over this issue just jumped up a step or two!

Octave Day of the Assumption; Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Devotions like the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary perhaps come naturally to those bought up as Catholics, but often seem a bit alien to converts (unless they have a strong empathy with seventeenth and eighteenth century french spirituality!). But in fact once you understand what they are really about, they are immensely appealing.

To me at least, the heart pierced by a sword, as depicted on the miraculous medal, provides the clearest symbolism for this feast, with its specific reminders us of the example Our Lady provides us.

The heart on the left hand side symbolises Our Lady's Immaculate Conception - conceived without Original Sin, and thus with a pure body and thus heart (and soul), Mary chose obedience to God's will, reversing Eve's disobedience by her 'fiat' opening the way for us to to be redeemed.

Secondly, the heart imagery points to the way Scripture often uses the term, as the seat of the emotions, reason and will. St Luke, of course, presents Our Lady as the model for contemplation, 'pondering the things Jesus did in her heart'.

Thirdly, we have the image of the heart of the soul pierced by the sword of suffering, as foretold by Simeon at Jesus' presentation in the Temple. It reminds us that all Christians must accompany Our Lord on the way of the Cross, accepting sufferings for the sake of others.

The feast itself is actually a very late one - the Office and Mass for it were approved in 1855, but it wasn't instituted for the universal Church until 1944.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Seventh Day in the Octave of the Assumption

On being angry rad trads...

When Inside Catholic ran a piece about how evil and horrible traddies were a few days ago, I decided to ignore it - we have enough to be stressed about without worrying about the continued frothing at the mouth of some neo-cons! But a rather good reply by Steve Skojec has now gone up on the same site, and I want to encourage you to read it and perhaps contribute to the debate going on over there, so herewith some extracts...

"Hello. My name is Steve, and I'm a 'traditional' Catholic."

So begins my admission of membership in a disparate group that, as you've already read, is far too well known for its bitterness, anger, and lack of evangelical spirit. I don't like being typecast in this way.... I am first and foremost a Catholic, and I detest even needing to wear a label to distinguish myself. Unfortunately, I must, for it is still an uncommon thing among Catholics to venerate many of the traditions that I hold dear.

I'll be honest: There was a time when I was an "angry trad," when I lashed out at others as I clawed for a spiritual inheritance I felt was stolen from me. While this is probably a natural reaction, I now know it gained me nothing. There is no value in promoting the beauty of something when one's conduct in so doing is itself repulsive.

So why, then, are traditional Catholics so angry?

In his homily on October 21, 2007 Rev. Franklyn McAfee, pastor of St. John the Beloved in McClean, Virginia, offered an insight:

What flowed from the promised renewal of the Mass in the late 60s was something entirely new. The American Theologian Avery Cardinal Dulles has pointed out that the new rite of the Mass violated every norm for liturgical renewal prescribed by Vatican II. He said it was the only Mass in history that was put together by a committee. As a result . . . many people stopped going to Mass. Some even left the Church....

People were hurt, immensely, by the drastic nature of the change. The liturgy on which they had been nourished their entire lives became something unrecognizable -- a Mass as alien to them as my first experiences with the old form were to me.... The old liturgy was effectively suppressed, leaving innumerable Catholics shanghaied in a new Mass that adopted a different form, different postures, a different language, and a different theological focus than that to which they had been accustomed their entire lives. They felt alienated and forgotten....

At a conference I attended several years ago, a priest reported the response of one of the American bishops when contacted by a cardinal with whom John Paul II had entrusted the mission of spreading the indult allowing the old Mass: "I am the bishop of my diocese," the bishop said, "Not the Holy Father."

An anecdote from yet another priest concerned a bishop who locked the parishioners of a diocesan-approved traditional parish out of their church during the Easter Triduum, following an edict that no Good Friday services were to be allowed in Latin....

If these are extraordinary examples, it has been a common experience for the average traditional Catholic to have to drive long distances to get to a Mass at an inconvenient time -- often the only such Mass available in the diocese. Nothing was done to facilitate their devotion, while every other Catholic special interest group imaginable was happily accommodated.

This repression suffered for four decades by those attached to the older form has lead -- it is true -- to great bitterness. Not every traditional Catholic is afflicted with it, and among those who are there are many good and faithful people who want nothing more than to be fully a part of the life of the Church.... Nevertheless, it would be false to deny that there is an angry, malignant, ugly streak running through the heart of traditionalism that threatens to rot the group to its core. It has grown necrotic in the years spent without sympathetic leadership, without cause for hope, living constantly with the knowledge that something was horribly awry in the life of the Church.

Then came Summorum Pontificum.... The traditionalists who spent decades arguing that the Mass could not be abrogated -- that any priest had the right to say it, that it was as much a part of the Church as it had ever been -- had finally been exonerated. The Mass that they loved so dearly and fought for so valiantly was finally free, in no small part because of their defense of its status as a Mass immemorial.

However justified it may be, traditional angst has always been counterproductive. If we desire to help build a better Church, one that honors its traditions and pays them the reverence they are due, we must conduct ourselves in a constructive fashion.

Do I believe that the older form of Mass is an objectively better expression of Catholic worship than the newer form? Absolutely -- if I didn't, this would be hardly worth the effort. But I want to argue that position on its merits, and not be dismissed because I'm perceived as a member of a rancorous and unpleasant sub-group of Catholics. Those of us seeking to restore what we believe has been lost have some reputation-building to do if we want to avoid being painted with the broad brush strokes some of our peers have earned for us....

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Sixth Day in the Octave of the Assumption of Our Lady

There's a lively discussion going on over at Fr Z over the extent to which the Dormition of Mary is part of the deposit of faith. It was stimulated, unfortunately by a rather arrogant and rude comment by an Eastern Rite Catholic, but has brought out some interesting points, not the least of which is the inability of many today to take proper note of the different between what we must believe, what we may believe and what we must not believe!

The commenters main message is that while Mary's death hasn't been formally defined, there is a lot of evidence from tradition for it - in the Eastern rite/Orthodox liturgy, in sacred art, and in the writings of the Church Fathers in particular.

The evidence for Our Lady's death

Some Eastern rite catholics in the debate have asserted that Westerners are ignoring their tradition. The problem is that there are a number of issues where Western and Eastern tradition diverge liturgically and in their traditions.

One example is St Mary Magdalene - the Eastern church view the various stories about women followers of Our Lord as being about different people. They reject for example the association of the sinful woman from Luke 7 as Mary Magdalene - whereas the traditional Latin Mass uses that text for St Mary Magdalene's feast day!

Another problem from the Western perspective is that the historical evidence one way or another is not strong - there are, as I've previously pointed out some traditions about the apostles gathering in Jerusalem for her death, but the written record of these is not early. There are private revelations going both ways (Elizabeth of Schonau saw a vision in which Our Lady did die; the Ven. Mary of Jesus of Agreda apparently saw the opposite).

Personally, I think the fact that the view that Our Lady didn't die arose very late, and runs counter to the monuments of tradition is fairly compelling. But the question is are we free to disagree on this?

Dr Ott

A really excellent resource on questions like this is Dr Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. First, whether or not Our Lady died is (potentially at least) a dogmatic fact:

"Dogmatic Facts (facta dogmatica). By these are understood historical facts, which are not revealed, but which are intrinsically connected with revealed truth, for example, the legality of a Pope or of a General Council, or the fact of the Roman episcopate of St. Peter. The fact that a defined text does or does not agree with the doctrine of the Catholic Faith is also, in a narrower sense, a "dogmatic fact." In deciding the meaning of a text the Church does not pronounce judgment on the subjective intention of the author, but on the objective sense of the text (D 1350 : sensum quem verba prae se ferunt). "

On such facts, people are free to debate until the Magisterium rules one way or another, which it clearly has not done in this case:

"Theological opinions are free views on aspects of doctrines concerning Faith and morals, which are neither clearly attested in Revelation nor decided by the Teaching Authority of the Church. Their value depends upon the reasons adduced in their favour (association with the doctrine of Revelation, the attitude of the Church, etc.).

A point of doctrine ceases to be an object of free judgment when the Teaching Authority of the Church takes an attitude which is clearly in favour of one opinion. Pope Pius XII explains in the Encyclical "Humani generis" (1950): "When the Popes in their Acts intentionally pronounce a judgment on a long disputed point then it is clear to all that this, according to the intention and will of these Popes, can no longer be open to the free discussion of theologians" (D 3013)."

There are however grades of theological certainty which go to how we should approach a particular assertion. This is how they are traditionally described:

"1. The highest degree of certainty appertains to the immediately revealed truths. The belief due to them is based on the authority of God Revealing (fides divina), and if the Church, through its teaching, vouches for the fact that a truth is contained in Revelation, one's certainty is then also based on the authority of the Infallible Teaching Authority of the Church (fides catholica). If Truths are defined by a solemn judgment of faith (definition) of the Pope or of a General Council, they are "de fide definita."

2. Catholic truths or Church doctrines, on which the infallible Teaching Authority of the Church has finally decided, are to be accepted with a faith which is based on the sole authority of the Church (fides ecclesiastica). These truths are as infallibly certain as dogmas proper.

3. A Teaching proximate to Faith (sententia fidei proxima) is a doctrine, which is regarded by theologians generally as a truth of Revelation, but which has not yet been finally promulgated as such by the Church.

4. A Teaching pertaining to the Faith, i.e., theologically certain (sententia ad fidem pertinens, i.e., theologice certa) is a doctrine, on which the Teaching Authority of the Church has not yet finally pronounced, but whose truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic connection with the doctrine of revelation (theological conclusions).

5. Common Teaching (sententia communis) is doctrine, which in itself belongs to the field of the free opinions, but which is accepted by theologians generally.

6. Theological opinions of lesser grades of certainty are called probable, more probable, well-founded (sententia probabilis, probabilior, bene fundata). [My view is that this is where Our Lady's death is located] Those which are regarded as being in agreement with the consciousness of Faith of the Church are called pious opinions (sententia pia). The least degree of certainty is possessed by the tolerated opinion (opimo tolerata), which is only weakly founded, but which is tolerated by the Church.

With regard to the doctrinal teaching of the Church it must be well noted that not all the assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church on questions of Faith and morals are infallible and consequently irrevocable. Only those are infallible which emanate from General Councils representing the whole episcopate, and the Papal Decisions Ex Cathedra (cf. D 1839). The ordinary and usual form of the Papal teaching activity is not infallible. Further, the decisions of the Roman Congregations (Holy Office, Bible Commission) are not infallible.

Nevertheless normally they are to be accepted with an inner assent which is based on the high supernatural authority of the Holy See (assensus internus supernaturalis, assensus religiosus). The so-called "silentium obsequiosum." that is "reverent silence," does not generally suffice. By way of exception, the obligation of inner agreement may cease if a competent expert, after a renewed scientific investigation of all grounds, arrives at the positive conviction that the decision rests on an error."

Hope this is helpful....

On pilgrimages...and Christus Rex in particular

I mentioned a few days ago that flyers for the annual Christus Rex pilgrimage (the picture is from last year, from the Christus Rex site) are around, so I thought I'd talk about the virtues of joining pilgrimages in general and this one in particular!

Now I have to admit I'm one of those people who hesitate to commit themselves to attending things until the last moment, and so October 24 still seems a long way away, but still, thinking about the idea of pilgrimage is good at any time, and I know some people do need to plan well ahead!

The concept of pilgrimage

The idea of pilgrimage is of ancient origin - humans like the idea of a holiday or time out with a purpose I guess. But they were a big part of Jewish religion, as we learn in the Gospel of St Luke with the famous story of the Holy Family making the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem - and leaving Jesus behind....

That particular story is important on many levels, but one we perhaps don't often think about is that it points to the penitential aspect of them (at least for the anguished parents)! Certainly in the middle ages, pilgrimages were often prescribed as penances for major sins.

At the same time, the story also reminds us that pilgrimages are meant to be joyful, social events, a chance to catch up with people you haven't seen for a long time. I think this dimension is particularly important for traditionalists given that we often live in quite isolated communities. Many people who are traditionally inclined don't have access to the Traditional Mass normally - so this is a chance to meet up with like-minded people and 'taste and see'!

It is also worth noting that medieval pilgrimages often weren't that penitential - just think of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - so if you want to pike out and take a slightly softer option and stay in motels along the route rather than camping out, I don't see that it is in the least untraditional (though there may be some logistical issues to address)!

The most important thing about a pilgrimage though is that it reminds of the spiritual journey we are all on. A pilgrimage is a microcosm of our lives. It has a beginning and a destination - the trick is to stay on the right road to get there, for which there are maps and leaders to guide us. Pilgrimages remind us that we don't journey alone, but as part of a community. And just as in life, a pilgrimage offers aids along the way both in terms of bodily and spiritual sustenance. A pilgrimage also typically includes tasks to be performed along the way - singing as you walk, prayers for the dead at a cemetery along the way, and so forth.

Christus Rex

The annual Christus Rex pilgrimage in Australia (and this is the eighteenth) is organised around the feast of Christ the King - and typically ends with a joyful singing of the royal praises.

It starts in St Patrick's Cathedral, Ballarat and ends in Sacred Heart Cathedral, Bendigo three days later. Each day there is a Solemn Sung Mass (with a choir put together from choir members from across the country), and as you walk, people sing, say rosaries and so forth. Priests are available for confession, and there is also generally a spiritual conference each day.

All meals and refreshments are provided.

The main penitential bit (apart for the walking!) is the accommodation - women and families can sleep in community halls along the way, but camping is strongly encouraged, and is compulsory for men!

By the way, don't feel you can't join in the fun if you are not up to walking all the way - the pilgrimage relies on volunteers to help prepare meals, drive shuttle buses and much more, so there are options for everyone to participate.

So if you are interested (and I urge you to be!), contact your State or country representative or take a look at the yet to be updated website.
Year of St Paul opportunities
And on the subject of pilgrimages, it is worth remembering that a number of churches have been appointed as pilgrimage sites in order to gain the indulgence for the Year of St Paul. So why not try and arrange a mini-pilgrimage in your community? Of course finding out where these are may be a bit of task based on my lack of joy from a quick internet search...

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Scripture Reading Plan - Job

The Scripture reading plan I'm using turns to the Book of Job today, and I've decided to stick with that program.

Job is actually one of my favourite books in the Bible - it has a good storyline with a happy ending, and it wrestles with meaty issues such as why God permits the innocent to suffer and how we should deal with our own suffering.

Job, you will recall, was a wealthy man whom God allowed the devil to test. He loses his family, possessions and health. And his friends come along to lecture him about his sinfulness in his misery. In the end though, Job is vindicated (got to love the scenes where his so-called friends are put in their place), though many of the questions Job asks God remain essentially unanswered.

Job is probably the most commented on and influential books of the Old Testament aside from Psalms, with perhaps the most famous commentary being by St Gregory the Great. And the book is filled with beautiful lines, including on the resurrection of the dead, many of which are used as readings in the Office for the Dead.

In terms of structure, the first two chapters are essentially a Prologue, which is followed by speeches by the various key players including laments by Job. God explains things (to an extent!) in chapters 38-42.

The reading plan allocates twelve days to it....

Fifth Day in the Octave of the Assumption - on visions and visionaries

I have to admit that I'm generally a sceptic when it comes to private revelations and visions of Our Lady. I accept that they do occasionally occur, but an awful lot of the ones I get sent or read about seem to either state the bleeding obvious (like we're in the end times, repent) or include some rather bizarre elements.

The ones that do seem to make sense (to me at least) are where Our Lady is seeking the institution of some particular devotion, or helping along some development of doctrine. Elizabeth of Schonau's vision relating to the Assumption, which she received around 1157, is of the latter category.

Elizabeth was a Benedictine, and a friend of Hildegarde von Bingen.

On the octave day of the Assumption she fell into an ecstasy at mass, and Our Lady appeared to her:

"...following the advice of one of our superiors, I asked her:" My benevolent Lady, may it please you to make known to us whether you were assumed into heaven in spirit only or also in the flesh?" I mentioned this because, as they say, there is uncertainty about it in the books the Fathers wrote."

Our Lady initially refused to answer the question, but a year later, Elizabeth had a vision of the actual Assumption itself, an got an explanation of it which stated that Our Lady was physically resurrected after her death (a position which goes slightly further than defined doctrine on this topic which simply insists that she was assumed body and soul into heaven but is silent on whether she actually died first).

Elizabeth seems to have been given lists of questions to ask by eager theologians, and took the opportunity when she could!

Interestingly, according to the vision, Our Lady's Assumption actually occurred forty days after her death (September 23).

Monday, 18 August 2008

Fourth Day in the Octave of the Assumption

While I've been talking about celebrating the Octave of the Feast of the Assumption (informally of course since it is no longer in the calendar), I came across another way of prolonging our remembrance of the doctrine through the feast, namely having a triduum leading up to it, as practiced by the Sons of the Holy Redeemer (formerly the Transalpine Redemptorists). They started last Wednesday with this magnificent catafalque in their chapel, so that they could gather around it in imitation of the Apostles.
The Catholic Encyclopedia lists quite a few sets of three days of prayer. The most obvious is Holy Week of course - but there are also (traditionally at least) the Rogation Days; three days of litanies prior to the feast of the Ascension, and Pentecost (both of which also had octaves in the older calendar); in honour of the Holy Trinity (which can be done any time), of the Holy Eucharist (around Corpus Christi), and for St. Joseph.
The Encyclopedia states that:
"The exercises of these triduums are mainly meditations or instructions disposing the hearers to a devout reception of the sacraments of penance and of Holy Communion and to betterment of life."
Hmmm, my calendar restoration campaign may be expanding in scope...

This week's Oz news roundup...

A quick news round up for the week:

  • First, many more lovely photos from Juventutem are up on the Juventutem Australia site (thanks to Latin Mass Melbourne website for the alert). A couple here showing off the fabulous Balmain Church, and the choir as a taster:

  • Flyers for this year's Christus Rex pilgrimage (October 24-26) are circulating - unfortunately the website hasn't been updated yet, but I'll post the details I have shortly. In the meantime start thinking about getting to Bendigo - three days with daily Solemn Mass in the Extraordinary Form, prayers and singing as you walk, and access to confession and spiritual direction is hard to go past!

  • Fr Define, regional superior of the FSSP is in Canberra looking after the Fraternity's apostolate there while Fr Webb is on holiday.

  • Fr Joseph Kramer (pictured below) parish priest of the Fraternity's Rome personal parish, is currently visiting the Melbourne Latin Mass community while at home on holiday.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

14th Sunday after Pentecost (and second day in the Octave of the Assumption)

The theme of the Mass this week is reliance on Divine Providence, centering on the famous part of the Sermon on the Mount where Our Lord urges us not to worry about the basic necessities of life, but to trust in God (Gradual).

The selection of texts suggest that it is all about getting a proper sense of perspective by focusing on the Kingdom of God. The Introit sets up this theme by reminding us that God is our protector, and 'better is one day in thy courts above thousands...' Similarly, the Communio takes a line from the Gospel, and urges us to 'Seek first the Kingdom of God...'

The Epistle, from Galatians, provides a reminder that the Kingdom is already here in one sense, listing out the fruits of the Holy Spirit that are given to those who have conquered sin. As the Offertory says, 'Taste and see that the Lord is sweet'.

The Gospel though is surely one of the most beautiful of New Testament texts, filled with the memorable lines such as 'Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin...', and yet outdo even the magnificent robes of Solomon on his throne; and 'No man can serve two masters..'.

First day within the Octave of the Assumption; feast of St Joachim

Well OK, it isn't technically the octave of the Assumption in either the 1962 or novus ordo calendars, but it should be! And the modern calendar, perhaps reflecting some angst about the historical evidence for St Joachim that has arisen from time to time, even abolishes the ancient tradition of celebrating the feast day of Our Lady's father separately to St Anne.

Pope Leo XIII, though, according to Dom Gueranger, said that 'Ecclesiasticus teaches us that we ought to praise our fathers in their generation; what great honour and veneration ought we then to render to St Joachim and St Anne, who begot the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and are on that account more glorious than all others.'
An important feast too, in honouring the ideal of married love and the importance of the family.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Le Barroux traditional ordinations

NLM has put up some of the beautiful photos of the recent ordination of Brothers Odon and Hubert of Le Barroux to the priesthood by Cardinal Rode on 26 July, so I thought I'd give you a further selection from Le Barroux's album of the occasion.

Le Barroux, as you can see, practices the traditional monastic tonsure.

And has an absolutely splendid Romanesque style (though modern built) abbey Church.

The sitting on the steps thing is one of the peculiarities of the monastic use.

Rather splendid vestments.

And this gives you a little look at the cloister as well! Oh to be in the South of France right now.....

Please pray for these new priests and their monastery.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

On feasts and fasting

Someone mentioned to me today that they really weren't sure of the rules around fasting (today being a vigil), and so I thought it might be useful to summarise what the rules really are, and then consider what more we should do!

The current rules on fasting

The first important point to make is that, traddie or not, the only binding rules (ie it is a sin to break) are those in the current Code of Canon Law (as modified by our bishop's conference). And they are:

  • the Eucharistic fast - from food and drink except water and medicine, 1 hour before receiving communion;

  • abstinence (no meat) on Fridays (but there is an option to substitute another suitable penance for this) except on Solemnities - of which the Feast of the Assumption is one; and

  • fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Tradition on fasting

Historically of course, the Church has prescribed much stricter fasting rules. Scripture tells us of course that fasting - along with prayer and almsgiving - is a key practice for every Christian. Fasting helps develop our control over desires, thus strengthening us for the battle against temptation. And there is a huge literature attesting to its broader spiritual value. So what are the options?

Well over time the Church has changed its general fasting rules several times. In addition, many religious orders and other groups within the Church have developed their own traditions in relation to fasting. The Carthusians, for example, still have a 'black fast' (bread and water - the black refers to the colour of the bread) on Fridays. Similarly, Benedictines traditionally only have one meal, served mid-afternoon on most Wednesdays and Fridays (traditional fast days in the early Church) throughout the year. So really it is up to you what regime you choose to adopt.

Most traditionalists, however, tend to follow, with varying degrees of strictness, one of the versions (they changed a few times in the twentieth century) of the Church's general fasting rules that applied prior to 1969. A nice summary of the earliest version of those rules can be found here on the excellent fisheaters website (fisheaters lists a twelve hour fast before the start of Mass for example, but it was reduced to three hours and water allowed in the 1950s).

So today, for example (as I mentioned in the post in the vigil below) is traditionally a day of fasting and abstinence, and that would certainly be a praiseworthy practice to follow.

Personally I would advocate some flexibility on these things - a twelve hour fast with no water is perfectly manageable for most people (unless you have to drive a long way) if you attend an early enough mass such that you are sleeping for most of the fast! But if you are attending an evening mass, for example, and have to work during the day, then I would suggest a three hour fast is more doable....


The other point is that fasts need to be counter-balanced with feasts! Something of the Jansenist influence lingers I think, in making us tend to forget this.

The point of fasting on a vigil is in part the contrast with the celebration.

Just as our Lord explained why his disciples did not fast while he was with them, in many periods of our history, major feasts were the only time that the Eucharist was received by most people. The extra fast was felt to be a particularly fitting preparation for that, with the feast continuing to remind us of the gift of himself in the Eucharist.

Solemnities used to be holidays, on which servile work was prohibited. If we can arrange to take the day off, I think that is a praiseworthy thing to do!

The liturgy of the feast day was typically much more elaborate, and other liturgical celebrations, such as Solemn Vespers, or Vespers of Our Lady would be an important part of the day.

The main meal on a feast day was typically something above the ordinary, and the day was marked by pageants and music. And there were often distributions of food, clothing and money to the poor.

Now it is impossible for most of us to recreate that kind of atmosphere for a feast like the Assumption tomorrow, but we can surely try to do what we can...