Sunday, 28 September 2008

Blogging break

As you will have noticed, I haven't blogged much over the last week. I've decided to take a little break from blogging.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Scripture Reading Plan: Book of Judith

The Scripture reading plan moves today to the Book of Judith, another deutero-canonical historical book of the Old Testament.

The first half of the book paints the scene - Nabuchednezzar, King of Assyria, is intent on punishing all who refuse to join his wars of conquest, had his forces, under the leadership of General Holofernes, advance on Judea. The Jews make preparations - building fortresses, stockpiling provisions, and above all, praying and fasting. Despite all this, the Jews lose courage and are on the point of surrender when Judith, a young widow, uses her wit and beauty to penetrate the Assyrian camp, and manages to chop of the head of Holofernes while he lies in a drunken stupor.

Judith is a model of the feminine virtues: strong in faith, wise, courageous, resourceful, chaste, valiant and above all reliant on God rather than physical strength. She is accordingly regarded as a type of Our Lady.

At stake in the battle between Assyria and Judea, it is made clear, is religion: the king-worship being imposed by Nebuchadnezzar, versus the faithful worship of God. Early on we are reminded that when the Israelites stay faithful to God, they invariably win. But man (or rather woman in this case!) must play his part.

This book of the Bible has something for everyone - battles for the boys, and a wonderful role model for the girls!

If you are trying to follow the Bible in a year reading plan, aim to finish it by next Wednesday.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Scripture Reading Plan: the Book of Tobit

I'm a little tardy in posting an introduction to the Book of Tobit, since according to the Reading Plan, one should have started it on Monday....but if you are following the plan and haven't started yet, it is an easy one to read, and so you can still catch up!

And if you haven't yet been persuaded to open your Bible, this is a good book to start on.... after all, what more could you ask for then a nice, easy to read story with a happy ending, a bit of angelology, and some helpful guidelines on good works!


Tobit is one of those borderline books, classed as historical, but reading more like a parable, and certainly containing lots of 'wisdom' like material, including a version of the Golden Rule.

It is one of the 'deutero-canonical books' tossed out by the Protestants - to their great loss!

A great story

Tobit has a great storyline. Like Job, Tobit is an upright, virtuous man who does his best to serve God in difficult times.

And like Job, lots of terrible things happen to him - he is taken into exile to Assyria, has to flee in fear of death (in retribution for his good works in burying the dead), is blinded, and thus becomes poverty-stricken. He also has a female relative Sarah, who is afflicted by a demon that murders her would-be husbands (the toll is up to seven goners at the start of the story).

But unlike Job, there is no angst about why bad things happen to good people. Rather, the storyline is all about how God makes things work out in the end, in this case through the agency of the Archangel Raphael, who accompanies Tobit's son Tobias on a journey to collect some money owed to Tobit. Tobias, of course, doesn't know that his companion is an angel. Nonetheless, he takes his advice, collecting a wife (Sarah) along the way (and dealing with her little demon problem), and acquiring the means to heal his father's blindness.

In the course of the story, Tobit gives his son some sound advice on the corporal works of mercy and other topics, we get treated to some memorable and realistic scenes (like his mother's angst and tears at his departure). And in the end, everyone lives happily ever after.

It is quite short, with only fourteen chapters, and the reading plan suggests finishing it by Friday, before moving on to another of my favourites, the Book of Judith.

Ember Days ***updated**

Today, Friday and Saturday are Ember Days, traditionally days of fasting and partial abstinence marking the change of the seasons. And if you are inclined to fast, there is an embarrassment of causes that you might care to offer your fast for!


First, the defeat of the Abortion legislation in Victoria. Archbishop Hart has especially called for October 5 to be a day of intercession for this cause, and has warned that should the legislation pass, Catholic hospitals will be forced to close their maternity wards (rather than be forced to offer abortions or referrals for them). You can read more on the diocesan website.

The other special causes at the moment worth considering are the plight of Christians being persecuted, especially in India, Vietnam and China. Catholic Culture has been carrying probably the best update and commentary on this.

Why we fast

Aside from special causes, the Golden legend offers a list of eight reasons for Ember Days, which are worth reading:

The fasting of the Quatretemps, called in English Ember days, the Pope Calixtus ordained them.
And this fast is kept four times in the year, and for divers reasons.

Seasons: For the first time, which is in March, is hot and moist. The second, in summer, is hot and dry. The third, in harvest, is cold and dry. The fourth in winter is cold and moist. Then let us fast in March which is printemps for to repress the heat of the flesh boiling, and to quench luxury or to temper it. In summer we ought to fast to the end that we chastise the burning and ardour of avarice. In harvest for to repress the drought of pride, and in winter for to chastise the coldness of untruth and of malice.

Growth in virtue: The second reason why we fast four times; for these fastings here begin in March in the first week of the Lent, to the end that vices wax dry in us, for they may not all be quenched; or because that we cast them away, and the boughs and herbs of virtues may grow in us. And in summer also, in the Whitsun week, for then cometh the Holy Ghost, and therefore we ought to be fervent and esprised in the love of the Holy Ghost. They be fasted also in September to fore Michaelmas, and these be the third fastings, because that in this time the fruits be gathered and we should render to God the fruits of good works. In December they be also, and they be the fourth fastings, and in this time the herbs die, and we ought to be mortified to the world.

Imitating Jewish practice: The third reason is for to ensue the Jews. For the Jews fasted four times in the year, that is to wit, tofore Easter, tofore Whitsunside, tofore the setting of the tabernacle in the temple in September, and tofore the dedication of the temple in December.

Numerology: The fourth reason is because the man is composed of four elements touching the body, and of three virtues or powers in his soul: that is to wit, the understanding, the will, and the mind. To this then that this fasting may attemper in us four times in the year, at each time we fast three days, to the end that the number of four may be reported to the body, and the number of three to the soul. These be the reasons of Master Beleth.

Counter mood changes: The fifth reason, as saith John Damascenus: in March and in printemps the blood groweth and augmenteth, and in summer coler, in September melancholy, and in winter phlegm. Then we fast in March for to attemper and depress the blood of concupiscence disordinate, for sanguine of his nature is full of fleshly concupiscence. In summer we fast because that coler should be lessened and refrained, of which cometh wrath. And then is he full naturally of ire. In harvest we fast for to refrain melancholy. The melancholious man naturally is cold, covetous and heavy. In winter we fast for to daunt and to make feeble the phlegm of lightness and forgetting, for such is he that is phlegmatic.

Seasonal sins: The sixth reason is for the printemps is likened to the air, the summer to fire, harvest to the earth, and the winter to water. Then we fast in March to the end that the air of pride be attempered to us. In summer the fire of concupiscence and of avarice. In September the earth of coldness and of the darkness of ignorance. In winter the water of lightness and inconstancy. The seventh reason is because that March is reported to infancy, summer to youth, September to steadfast age and virtuous, and winter to ancienty or old age. We fast then in March that we may be in the infancy of innocency. In summer for to be young by virtue and constancy. In harvest that we may be ripe by attemperance. In winter that we may be ancient and old by prudence and honest life, or at least that we may be satisfied to God of that which in these four seasons we have offended him.

Reparation: The eighth reason is of Master William of Auxerre. We fast, saith he, in these four times of the year to the end that we make amends for all that we have failed in all these four times, and they be done in three days each time, to the end that we satisfy in one day that which we have failed in a month; and that which is the fourth day, that is Wednesday, is the day in which our Lord was betrayed of Judas; and the Friday because our Lord was crucified; and the Saturday because he lay in the sepulchre, and the apostles were sore of heart and in great sorrow.

For more on Emberdays, take a look at the excellent fisheaters site.


It is a promising sign of the times that I wasn't the only one to post on Emberdays!

There is a nice post at New Liturgical Movement on what Ember Days are about, and a suggestion of what to pray, for viz, traditionally its vocations.

And Rorate Caeli also features an article on the ancient and more recent history of Ember Days, with the suggestion that we take the opportunity to pray for the Pope, to thank God for Summorum Pontificum, and pray for its implementation in every parish.

As I said, an embarrassment of causes to pray for...

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Pope on the origins of the culture of Europe: some reading for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

I've been saving this up for a little while - it is a little long, but one to savour and meditate on!

On his recent trip to France, the pope gave a very important speech to representatives of the world of culture at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris. It has received surprisingly little attention in blogdom so far, but here it is (I've just edited out the greetings and added headings), with a few comments along the way.

European culture is rooted in monasticism

"We are gathered in a historic place, built by the spiritual sons of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and which Your venerable predecessor, the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, desired to be a centre of dialogue between Christian Wisdom and the cultural, intellectual, and artistic currents of contemporary society. ...

I would like to speak with you this evening of the origins of western theology and the roots of European culture. I began by recalling that the place in which we are gathered is in a certain way emblematic. It is in fact a placed tied to monastic culture, insofar as young monks came to live here in order to learn to understand their vocation more deeply and to be more faithful to their mission. We are in a place that is associated with the culture of monasticism.

Does this still have something to say to us today, or are we merely encountering the world of the past? In order to answer this question, we must consider for a moment the nature of Western monasticism itself. What was it about?

From the perspective of monasticism’s historical influence, we could say that, amid the great cultural upheaval resulting from migrations of peoples and the emerging new political configurations, the monasteries were the places where the treasures of ancient culture survived, and where at the same time a new culture slowly took shape out of the old.

But how did it happen? What motivated men to come together to these places? What did they want? How did they live?

Monastic life is grounded in the search for God

First and foremost, it must be frankly admitted straight away that it was not their intention to create a culture nor even to preserve a culture from the past [Actually I think a counter-case can be made to this - it may not have been their primary aim, but it was certainly an important secondary aim. Consider for example Cassiodorus' fifth century effort to preserve classical culture, and Benedict Biscop's seventh century efforts to find anything that moved - and where it couldn't be lifted, craftsmen to reproduce it - and bring it back to Britain, chronicled by St Bede.]

Their motivation was much more basic. Their goal was: quaerere Deum. Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential – to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. They were searching for God. They wanted to go from the inessential to the essential, to the only truly important and reliable thing there is.

It is sometimes said that they were “eschatologically” oriented. But this is not to be understood in a temporal sense, as if they were looking ahead to the end of the world or to their own death, but in an existential sense: they were seeking the definitive behind the provisional.

Monasticism is inevitably linked to the love of learning

Quaerere Deum: because they were Christians, this was not an expedition into a trackless wilderness, a search leading them into total darkness. God himself had provided signposts, indeed he had marked out a path which was theirs to find and to follow.

This path was his word, which had been disclosed to men in the books of the sacred Scriptures.Thus, by inner necessity, the search for God demands a culture of the word or – as Jean Leclercq put it: eschatology and grammar are intimately connected with one another in Western monasticism (cf. L’amour des lettres et le désir de Dieu).

The longing for God, the désir de Dieu, includes amour des lettres, love of the word, exploration of all its dimensions. Because in the biblical word God comes towards us and we towards him, we must learn to penetrate the secret of language, to understand it in its construction and in the manner of its expression.

Thus it is through the search for God that the secular sciences take on their importance, sciences which show us the path towards language. Because the search for God required the culture of the word, it was appropriate that the monastery should have a library, pointing out pathways to the word. It was also appropriate to have a school, in which these pathways could be opened up.

Benedict calls the monastery a dominici servitii schola. The monastery serves eruditio, the formation and education of man – a formation whose ultimate aim is that man should learn how to serve God. But it also includes the formation of reason – education – through which man learns to perceive, in the midst of words, the Word itself.

The importance of community

Yet in order to have a full vision of the culture of the word, which essentially pertains to the search for God, we must take a further step. The Word which opens the path of that search, and is to be identified with this path, is a shared word. True, it pierces every individual to the heart (cf. Acts 2:37).

Gregory the Great describes this a sharp stabbing pain, which tears open our sleeping soul and awakens us, making us attentive to the essential reality, to God (cf. Leclercq, p. 35). But in the process, it also makes us attentive to one another. The word does not lead to a purely individual path of mystical immersion, but to the pilgrim fellowship of faith. And so this word must not only be pondered, but also correctly read.

As in the rabbinic schools, so too with the monks, reading by the individual is at the same time a corporate activity:“But if legere and lectio are used without an explanatory note, then they designate for the most part an activity which, like singing and writing, engages the whole body and the whole spirit”, says Jean Leclercq on the subject (ibid., 21).

A conversation with God

And once again, a further step is needed. We ourselves are brought into conversation with God by the word of God. The God who speaks in the Bible teaches us how to speak with him ourselves. Particularly in the book of Psalms, he gives us the words with which we can address him, with which we can bring our life, with all its highpoints and lowpoints, into conversation with him, so that life itself thereby becomes a movement towards him.

Music is integral to prayer and worship

The psalms also contain frequent instructions about how they should be sung and accompanied by instruments. For prayer that issues from the word of God, speech is not enough: music is required.

Two chants from the Christian liturgy come from biblical texts in which they are placed on the lips of angels: the Gloria, which is sung by the angels at the birth of Jesus, and the Sanctus, which according to Isaiah 6 is the cry of the seraphim who stand directly before God.

Christian worship is therefore an invitation to sing with the angels, and thus to lead the word to its highest destination. Once again, Jean Leclercq says on this subject:“The monks had to find melodies which translate into music the acceptance by redeemed man of the mysteries that he celebrates.

The few surviving capitula from Cluny thus show the Christological symbols of the individual modes” (cf. ibid. p. 229).For Benedict, the words of the Psalm: coram angelis psallam Tibi, Domine – in the presence of the angels, I will sing your praise (cf. 138:1) – are the decisive rule governing the prayer and chant of the monks. What this expresses is the awareness that in communal prayer one is singing in the presence of the entire heavenly court, and is thereby measured according to the very highest standards: that one is praying and singing in such a way as to harmonize with the music of the noble spirits who were considered the originators of the harmony of the cosmos, the music of the spheres.

Bad singing is not a minor misdemeanour!

From this perspective one can understand the seriousness of a remark by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who used an expression from the Platonic tradition handed down by Augustine, to pass judgement on the poor singing of monks, which for him was evidently very far from being a mishap of only minor importance. [A thought for all church choirs to bear in mind!]

He describes the confusion resulting from a poorly executed chant as a falling into the “zone of dissimilarity” – the regio dissimilitudinis. Augustine had borrowed this phrase from Platonic philosophy, in order to designate his condition prior to conversion (cf. Confessions, VII, 10.16): man, who is created in God’s likeness, falls in his godforsakenness into the “zone of dissimilarity” – into a remoteness from God, in which he no longer reflects him, and so has become dissimilar not only to God, but to himself, to what being human truly is.

Bernard is certainly putting it strongly when he uses this phrase, which indicates man’s falling away from himself, to describe bad singing by monks. But it shows how seriously he viewed the matter. It shows that the culture of singing is also the culture of being, and that the monks have to pray and sing in a manner commensurate with the grandeur of the word handed down to them, with its claim on true beauty.

This intrinsic requirement of speaking with God and singing of him with words he himself has given, is what gave rise to the great tradition of Western music. It was not a form of private “creativity”, in which the individual leaves a memorial to himself and makes self-representation his essential criterion. Rather it is about vigilantly recognizing with the “ears of the heart” the inner laws of the music of creation, the archetypes of music that the Creator built into his world and into men, and thus discovering music that is worthy of God, and at the same time truly worthy of man, music whose worthiness resounds in purity.

The Bible require exegesis to understand

In order to understand to some degree the culture of the word, which developed deep within Western monasticism from the search for God, we need to touch at least briefly on the particular character of the book, or rather books, in which the monks encountered this word.

The Bible, considered from a purely historical and literary perspective, is not simply a book, but a collection of literary texts which were redacted over the course of more than a thousand years, and in which the inner unity of the individual books is not immediately apparent.

On the contrary, there are visible tensions between them. This is already the case within the Bible of Israel, which we Christians call the Old Testament. It is only rectified when we as Christians link the New Testament writings as, so to speak, a hermeneutical key with the Bible of Israel, and so understand the latter as the journey towards Christ.

With good reason, the New Testament generally designates the Bible not as “the Scripture” but as “the Scriptures”, which, when taken together, are naturally then regarded as the one word of God to us. But the use of this plural makes it quite clear that the word of God only comes to us through the human word and through human words, that God only speaks to us through the humanity of human agents, through their words and their history. This means again that the divine element in the word and in the words is not self-evident.

Allegorical interpretations of Scripture are crucial

To say this in a modern way: the unity of the biblical books and the divine character of their words cannot be grasped by purely historical methods. The historical element is seen in the multiplicity and the humanity. From this perspective one can understand the formulation of a medieval couplet that at first sight appears rather disconcerting: littera gesta docet – quid credas allegoria … (cf. Augustine of Dacia, Rotulus pugillaris, I).

The letter indicates the facts; what you have to believe is indicated by allegory, that is to say, by Christological and pneumatological exegesis.We may put it even more simply: Scripture requires exegesis, and it requires the context of the community in which it came to birth and in which it is lived. This is where its unity is to be found, and here too its unifying meaning is opened up.

To put it yet another way: there are dimensions of meaning in the word and in words which only come to light within the living community of this history-generating word. Through the growing realization of the different layers of meaning, the word is not devalued, but in fact appears in its full grandeur and dignity.

Catholics are not fundamentalists

Therefore the Catechism of the Catholic Church can rightly say that Christianity does not simply represent a religion of the book in the classical sense (cf. par. 108). It perceives in the words the Word, the Logos itself, which spreads its mystery through this multiplicity and the reality of a human history. This particular structure of the Bible issues a constantly new challenge to every generation.It excludes by its nature everything that today is known as fundamentalism. In effect, the word of God can never simply be equated with the letter of the text. [Something to consider in the context of the debate on Genesis and creationism!]

To attain to it involves a transcending and a process of understanding, led by the inner movement of the whole and hence it also has to become a process of living. Only within the dynamic unity of the whole are the many books one book. The Word of God and his action in the world are revealed only in the word and history of human beings.

The tension between freedom and obligation; the role of the Holy Ghost

The whole drama of this topic is illuminated in the writings of Saint Paul. What is meant by the transcending of the letter and understanding it solely from the perspective of the whole, he forcefully expressed as follows: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6).

And he continues: “Where the Spirit is … there is freedom (cf. 2 Cor 3:17). But one can only understand the greatness and breadth of this vision of the biblical word if one listens closely to Paul and then discovers that this liberating Spirit has a name, and hence that freedom has an inner criterion: “The Lord is the Spirit. Where the Spirit is … there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17).

The liberating Spirit is not simply the exegete’s own idea, the exegete’s own vision. The Spirit is Christ, and Christ is the Lord who shows us the way. With the word of Spirit and of freedom, a further horizon opens up, but at the same time a clear limit is placed upon arbitrariness and subjectivity, which unequivocally binds both the individual and the community and brings about a new, higher obligation than that of the letter: namely, the obligation of insight and love.

This tension between obligation and freedom, which extends far beyond the literary problem of scriptural exegesis, has also determined the thinking and acting of monasticism and has deeply marked Western culture. This tension presents itself anew as a challenge for our own generation as we face two poles: on the one hand, subjective arbitrariness, and on the other, fundamentalist fanaticism. It would be a disaster if today’s European culture could only conceive freedom as absence of obligation, which would inevitably play into the hands of fanaticism and arbitrariness. Absence of obligation and arbitrariness do not signify freedom, but its destruction.

Monastic work

Thus far in our consideration of the “school of God’s service”, as Benedict describes monasticism, we have examined only its orientation towards the word – towards the “ora”. Indeed, this is the starting point that sets the direction for the entire monastic life.

But our consideration would remain incomplete if we did not also at least briefly glance at the second component of monasticism, indicated by the “labora”.

In the Greek world, manual labour was considered something for slaves. Only the wise man, the one who is truly free, devotes himself to the things of the spirit; he views manual labour as somehow beneath him, and leaves it to people who are not suited to this higher existence in the world of the spirit.

The Jewish tradition was quite different: all the great rabbis practised at the same time some form of handcraft. Paul, who as a Rabbi and then as a preacher of the Gospel to the Gentile world was also a tent-maker and earned his living with the work of his own hands, is no exception here, but stands within the common tradition of the rabbinate.

Monasticism took up this tradition; manual work is a constitutive element of Christian monasticism. In his Regula, Saint Benedict does not speak specifically about schools, although in practice, he presupposes teaching and learning, as we have seen.

However, in one chapter of his Rule, he does speak explicitly about work (cf. Chap. 48). And so does Augustine, who dedicated a book of his own to monastic work. Christians, who thus continued in the tradition previously established by Judaism, must have felt further vindicated by Jesus’s saying in Saint John’s Gospel, in defence of his activity on the Sabbath: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (5:17).

The Graeco-Roman world did not have a creator God; according to its vision, the highest divinity could not, as it were, dirty his hands in the business of creating matter. The “making” of the world was the work of the Demiurge, a lower deity. The Christian God is different: he, the one, real and only God, is also the Creator. God is working; he continues working in and on human history.In Christ, he enters personally into the laborious work of history. “My Father is working still, and I am working.” God himself is the Creator of the world, and creation is not yet finished. God works, ergázetai!

Thus human work was now seen as a special form of human resemblance to God, as a way in which man can and may share in God’s activity as creator of the world. Monasticism involves not only a culture of the word, but also a culture of work, without which the emergence of Europe, its ethos and its influence on the world would be unthinkable. Naturally, this ethos had to include the idea that human work and shaping of history is understood as sharing in the work of the Creator, and must be evaluated in those terms. Where such evaluation is lacking, where man arrogates to himself the status of god-like creator, his shaping of the world can quickly turn into destruction of the world.

We set out from the premise that the basic attitude of monks in the face of the collapse of the old order and its certainties was quaerere Deum – setting out in search of God. We could describe this as the truly philosophical attitude: looking beyond the penultimate, and setting out in search of the ultimate and the true. By becoming a monk, a man set out on a broad and noble path, but he had already found the direction he needed: the word of the Bible, in which he heard God himself speaking. Now he had to try to understand him, so as to be able to approach him.

So the monastic journey is indeed a journey into the inner world of the received word, even if an infinite distance is involved. Within the monks’ seeking there is already contained, in some respects, a finding.

The Missionary impetus

Therefore, if such seeking is to be possible at all, there has to be an initial spur, which not only arouses the will to seek, but also makes it possible to believe that the way is concealed within this word, or rather: that in this word, God himself has set out towards men, and hence men can come to God through it.

To put it another way: there must be proclamation, which speaks to man and so creates conviction, which in turn can become life.If a way is to be opened up into the heart of the biblical word as God’s word, this word must first of all be proclaimed outwardly. The classic formulation of the Christian faith’s intrinsic need to make itself communicable to others, is a phrase from the First Letter of Peter, which in medieval theology was regarded as the biblical basis for the work of theologians: “Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason (the logos) for the hope that you all have” (3:15). (The Logos, the reason for hope must become apo-logía; it must become a response).

In fact, Christians of the nascent Church did not regard their missionary proclamation as propaganda, designed to enlarge their particular group, but as an inner necessity, consequent upon the nature of their faith: the God in whom they believed was the God of all people, the one, true God, who had revealed himself in the history of Israel and ultimately in his Son, thereby supplying the answer which was of concern to everyone and for which all people, in their innermost hearts, are waiting. The universality of God, and of reason open towards him, is what gave them the motivation—indeed, the obligation—to proclaim the message. They saw their faith as belonging, not to cultural custom that differs from one people to another, but to the domain of truth, which concerns all people equally.

The fundamental structure of Christian proclamation “outwards” – towards searching and questioning mankind – is seen in Saint Paul’s address at the Areopagus. We should remember that the Areopagus was not a form of academy at which the most illustrious minds would meet for discussion of lofty matters, but a court of justice, which was competent in matters of religion and ought to have opposed the import of foreign religions. This is exactly what Paul is reproached for: “he seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities” (Acts 17:18). To this, Paul responds: I have found an altar of yours with this inscription: ‘to an unknown god’. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you (17:23).

We instinctively believe...but need to be taught

Paul is not proclaiming unknown gods. He is proclaiming him whom men do not know and yet do know – the unknown-known; the one they are seeking, whom ultimately they know already, and who yet remains the unknown and unrecognizable. The deepest layer of human thinking and feeling somehow knows that he must exist, that at the beginning of all things, there must be not irrationality, but creative Reason – not blind chance, but freedom.

Yet even though all men somehow know this, as Paul expressly says in the Letter to the Romans (1:21), this knowledge remains unreal: a God who is merely imagined and invented is not God at all. If he does not reveal himself, we cannot gain access to him. The novelty of Christian proclamation is that it can now say to all peoples: he has revealed himself. He personally.

And now the way to him is open. The novelty of Christian proclamation does not consist in a thought, but in a deed: God has revealed himself. Yet this is no blind deed, but one which is itself Logos – the presence of eternal reason in our flesh. Verbum caro factum est (Jn 1:14): just so, amid what is made (factum) there is now Logos, Logos is among us. Creation (factum) is rational. Naturally, the humility of reason is always needed, in order to accept it: man’s humility, which responds to God’s humility.

The situation today

Our present situation differs in many respects from the one that Paul encountered in Athens, yet despite the difference, the two situations also have much in common.

Our cities are no longer filled with altars and with images of multiple deities. God has truly become for many the great unknown. But just as in the past, when behind the many images of God the question concerning the unknown God was hidden and present, so too the present absence of God is silently besieged by the question concerning him. Quaerere Deum – to seek God and to let oneself be found by him, that is today no less necessary than in former times.

A purely positivistic culture which tried to drive the question concerning God into the subjective realm, as being unscientific, would be the capitulation of reason, the renunciation of its highest possibilities, and hence a disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences. What gave Europe’s culture its foundation – the search for God and the readiness to listen to him – remains today the basis of any genuine culture.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Means vs ends: the bishops on tax cuts

Social Justice Sunday is coming up (September 28) and to mark the occasion the Australian Bishop's Conference have released a statement entitled A Rich Young Nation: Affluence and Poverty in Australia.

A lot of it is harmless or even useful: a warning against consumerism for example.

But here is the problem. Rather than just articulating the principles of Church teaching, it tackles the means to achieve these ends. And in doing so, treads on highly debatable, highly political ground. Take this paragraph for example:

" This is reflected in attitudes to taxation. Many people feel that increased taxes will threaten their quality of life. [And that is surely true!] Additionally, because many who are relatively well off regard themselves as struggling, they can feel entitled to demand significant financial assistance from government in the form of benefits or tax cuts. [First, poverty is relative. We all judge what we have and haven't got by comparison to those around us not some abstract standard. And secondly, there is surely a big difference between increased benefits and tax cuts, not least in their economic effects! Conflating the two is misleading.] It remains a concern that electoral pressure to promise massive tax cuts can restrict a government’s ability to fund social services adequately and meet properly the real needs of the community..." [And this statement is the real problem - because the answer doesn't have to be that government should do it all! This is a political question, a matter of economic debate, not something bishops should be pronouncing on.]

Now I, like the bishops, agree that growing income inequality in Australia is a worry. I actually agree with them that this is a role where the Government can and should act (though not necessarily with a massive spending programme).

But I don't think they should be the ones saying so!

The Church's role is surely to teach us that our duty is to help the poor, to articulate the principles that underpin our faith. It is right for them to point out that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

But it is surely not right for them to attempt to dictate the particular means of achieving the end where the appropriate policy instruments are not at all clear cut, and most especially on issues that go to the very core of the political divide, and on which the bishops have no particular expertise.

This is the sort of thing that undermines the bishops' authority when they speak out on the things that really are within their area of competency.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

The Cardinal and the virtue of patience

Yesterday I reported on some comments by Cardinal Castillon about the unreasonableness of some traddies who have been bombarding him with excessive demands (and when they don't get an instant response, whinging about it on the internet).

I wanted to alert you to a few excellent analyses of the issue, counselling that traddies cultivate the virtue of patience!

First the always excellent Fr Finigan has written a nice piece trying to put some perspective around the issue. Secondly there is a piece by David Alexander on the Gregorian Rite blog. Mr Alexander points to some of the realities of trying to make change in the face of (1) a bureaucracy and (2) opposition.

On the other side stand those, such as New Catholic on Rorate Caeli, who see bishops diobeying the Pope and wondering why no immediate action is taken to deal with it. For the full stoush (and vividly illustrating in some of the comments exactly what Cardinal Castillon was talking about - see the debate on 'bread') between the two sides, take a look at Fr Z.

Personally I agree with Messrs Brown and Edwards on Fr Z - over the last fifty years, the power of the Pope to enforce anything has collapsed. Traddies shouldn't feel particularly picked on - look at the length of time it has taken to fix the Brisbane baptism problem!

The Holy Father is doing his best to restore notions of authority and obedience in the Church - but to lead you have to build support for what you are doing or it won't 'take', and that requires time.

I know many are frustrated at their own situations, but pissing off Rome with intemperate demands won't help the restoration process.

Londonistan cometh...sharia law now applies in Britain

Remember the fuss about the Archbishop of Canterbury's support for Sharia Law?

Well, apparently it has now happened. Quietly, without any fuss, the British Home Secretary has made rulings of Sharia Law Courts on disputes between Muslims legally enforceable. The Courts concerned deal with issues such as marriages and divorces, domestic violence, and disputes between neighbours (including criminal cases).

So Britain now has one law for the (rapidly growing) Islamic population. And the great treasure of its legal system, a system that has shaped that of ours and many other countries, applies only to atheists and Anglicans (well, actually they are mostly the same thing, and anyway, given that they are busily committing demographic suicide, it probably doesn't matter much), fundamentalists and the Catholic remnant: Magna Carta RIP.

It is having immediate effects on things like inheritance rights (boys get twice as much as girls) and domestic violence cases (amazingly, the women all agree to withdraw their complaint in return for the husband attending the ever popular 'anger management' course).

Let's face it, Europe is gone. What we see is just a palimpsest, the remnants of a previous age which though scrapped off and written over still peeps out occasionally, leaving the illusion that there is something still there. Canada too, where sharia law is similarly enforceable, is gone.

The only hope for restoring Christendom lies with those countries like Australia and the US that have not yet completely succumbed to the full horrors of political correctness (though both are rapidly heading that way). We need to start fighting now.

We need to start evangelizing now.

Before it is too late.

I do have one suggestion for Brits (and Australians by way of a pre-emptive strike) though. If Muslims (and apparently Jews as well) can have their religious legal systems enforced, why not lobby for the same thing for Catholics?

After all, we too have tribunals that deal with marriage issues...But of course, given the state of the English hierarchy (if you want to be depressed, go and take a look at Damian Thompson's chronicles of the efforts of the 'magic circle'), I wouldn't be holding your breath.

Catholics have never been fundamentalists on evolution....

There an amusing story of CathNews today about the Vatican refusing to apologise - as the Anglicans have just done - for controversies over Darwin and the theory of evolution.

Archbishop Ravasi of the Pontifical Council for Culture pointed out in a press conference that:

(1) The Catholic Church had in fact never condemned Darwin or the theory of evolution, nor was his book ever placed on the banned books list;

(2) Evolution theory "is not incompatible from the outset with the teachings of the Catholic Church, nor the message of the Bible," he said.

In fact, St Augustine was the first to point out that the Genesis account of creation should probably not be interpreted too literally give that the first few 'days' takes place before the sun had been created to 'govern the day'. In fact Humani Generis, issued by Pope Pius XII in 1950 specifically allows Catholics to accept physical evolution provided they hold that (a) the human soul is directly and individually created by God and (b) Adam was the first parent of us all. Back in 1950, Pope Pius XII felt the debate was still open. More recently, Pope John Paul II suggested that in fact evolution was now the clear scientific consensus.

(3) The time had come to 'abandon the habit of issuing apologies and treating history as if it were a court always in session' (take that Anglican wimps)!

Yay Vatican! Tell the ratpack always out for blood where to go jump!

Now I know many traditionalists do in fact support creationism, or 'Intelligent Design'. They are free to do so. But they shouldn't do so because it is the teaching of the Church - it ain't.

And expect to see more on this subject given the conference the Council is sponsoring next year entitled 'Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories. A Critical Appraisal 150 years after The Origin of Species', to be held in Rome from March 3 to 7, 2009.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Summorum Pontificum Conference in Rome

A conference is currently being held in Rome to mark the first anniversary of Summorum Pontificum. Speakers include Monsignor Perl (and an unscheduled speech by Cardinal Castillon Hoyos) of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, Fr Kramer FSSP, and many others. You can read accounts of proceedings (and see some nice photos) over at New Liturgical Movement and Fr Z's WDTPRS.

Of particular note so far, Cardinal Castillon mentioned that the long-awaited further clarifications on SP implementation are currently with the Pope for his decision. Watch this space!

The more problematic comment by the Cardinal related to the 'insatiable and unreasonable' demands of traddies. He gave the example of people who have been flooding the Commission with demands that the Tridentine rite be used 'not just at one Mass a week but at every Mass, and that such Masses be available not just at one church in a town but at every church'.

Well, we all know that there are some fruitcakes in the traddie community, but it sounds like they really are getting up the nose of Rome, and that is a worry.

On a more positive note, one of the papers at the conference, by Professor de Mattei, apparently talked about the TLM as both a barrier and challenge to secularism. I'm not actually sure that this is really a new insight - Catherine Pitstock in her book After Writing, to the extent that I've been able to understand her fairly impenetrable prose in this text, seems to say something pretty similar. But it is an important idea to disseminate, as it points to the issue of why the liturgy is so crucial.

Anyway, this is clearly an important conference...

Feast of St Hildegarde von Bingen

In the (traditional) Benedictine calendar (and cracking a mention in the Roman Matyrology), today is the feast of St Hildegarde von Bingen. Hildegarde has become very popular in recent times, and rightly so (although as ever, her appropriation by some groups such as feminists is an utter distortion of who she really was).

Hildegarde was actually a child oblate (like St Bede), brought up by a hermitess, around whom a larger community generally formed. Her music has become reasonably well known, but her visions and other writings (many scientific) are still less available, though fascinating.

Hundreds of her letters survive - she consulted St Bernard of Clairvaux for example, on her visions, and whether or not to make them more widely known, and corresponded with many Popes, bishops, abbots and Emperors. She was also something of a twelfth century Mother Angelica in some respects, in that she undertook what were effectively preaching tours. She also wrote a commentary on the Rule of St Benedict.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Pope on the role of bishops and priests **updated**

In some remarks to the French bishops, the Pope had some important things to say on providing access to the Traditional Mass, the importance of vocations, and the pastoral role of bishops in relation to their priests.

Summorum Pontificum

Some traditionalists have gone into a bit of a tailspin, putting a narrow and negative interpretation on the comments the Pope made on the plane to France, urging tolerance of traditionalist aspirations which I've previously reported on. There can be no doubt however about the strong message he is sending here to the bishops, which amounts to, just do it! He said:

"Liturgical worship is the supreme expression of priestly and episcopal life, just as it is of catechetical teaching. Your duty to sanctify the faithful people, dear Brothers, is indispensable for the growth of the Church.

In the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, I was led to set out the conditions in which this duty is to be exercised, with regard to the possibility of using the missal of Blessed John XXIII (1962) in addition to that of Pope Paul VI (1970).

Some fruits of these new arrangements have already been seen, and I hope that, thanks be to God, the necessary pacification of spirits is already taking place. I am aware of your difficulties, but I do not doubt that, within a reasonable time, you can find solutions satisfactory for all, lest the seamless tunic of Christ be further torn.

Everyone has a place in the Church. Every person, without exception, should be able to feel at home, and never rejected. God, who loves all men and women and wishes none to be lost, entrusts us with this mission by appointing us shepherds of his sheep. We can only thank him for the honour and the trust that he has placed in us. Let us therefore strive always to be servants of unity!"

Priests are essential

He also reiterated the central role of the priest in the Church:

"It can never be said often enough that the priesthood is indispensable to the Church, for it is at the service of the laity. Priests are a gift from God for the Church. Where their specific missions are concerned, priests cannot delegate their functions to the faithful."

He urged priests and bishops to do their best to foster priestly and religious vocations, even if there are no immediate results - he used the analogy of Peter fishing all night and getting no bites until the Lord came.

Bishops must help priests live up to their vocation

But I think the most important thing in these remarks relates to the active role bishops should play in the lives of their priests. He said:

"Dear Brothers in the episcopate, I urge you to continue helping your priests to live in profound union with Christ.

Their spiritual life is the foundation of their apostolic life. You will gently exhort them to daily prayer and to the worthy celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, as Saint Francis de Sales did for his priests.

Every priest should be able to feel happiness in serving the Church. In the school of the Curé d’Ars, a son of your land and patron of pastors throughout the world, constantly reiterate that the greatest thing a man can do is to give the body and blood of Christ to the faithful and to forgive their sins.

Seek to be attentive to their human, intellectual and spiritual formation, and to their means of subsistence.

Try, despite the weight of your onerous tasks, to meet them regularly and know how to receive them as brothers and friends (cf. Lumen Gentium, 28; Christus Dominus, 16).

Priests need your affection, your encouragement and your solicitude. Be close to them and have particular care for those who are in difficulties, sick or elderly (cf. Christus Dominus, 16). Do not forget that they are – as the Second Vatican Council teaches, quoting the magnificent expression used by Saint Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Magnesians – “the spiritual crown of the Bishop” (Lumen Gentium, 41)."

***update**The bishops respond....?

The Pope's remarks seem to have fallen on fairly unreceptive ears. Cardinal Vingt-Trois, bishop of Pris and President of the French episcopal conference reportedly said (in La Croix, via Rorate Caeli):

"...the relationship between the pope and the bishops "is not a servile relationship of subordination".

The relationship of the pope with the bishops is not a boss/employee relationship (true. But the obedience owed to Peter is rather stronger than a subordinate owes to a boss!). He is not the CEO of a multinational corporation who is coming to visit a branch office. We have welcomed him and listened to him as a brother who has come to reinforce the faith of those with whom he works and with whom he is in communion. We are in a relationship of communion, of affection, and of collaboration. (ahh, collegiality. When will the heretical version of it finally die? It just needs an extra word to be a correct statement - namely obedience.) And when we have things to say to him, we say them."

I suppose one has to give the French points for honesty and sheer gall (pun intended) - preferable in my view to those who say one thing but do another. Still, no wonder the Church in France is in such dire straits....Perhaps there is a case after all for that French tradition borne of laicisme associated with Madame La Guillotine!

What kind of blog are you (reading)?

I came across an intriguing article on the various types of blogs by Margaret Simons.

Now I don't entirely agree I don't entirely agree with her classifications and analysis (I don't see any real distinction between her 'pamphleteer' and 'advocacy' blog for example), but I thought I'd set them out with a few examples of how I'd classify things, with a few tweaks to her categories, and let you have a go at classifying your own blog, or your own favourite read, and see whether you think there is any value in the categories....

  • The Diarist. This is probably still the most common in traddiedom I think, and we all tend to fall into it from time to time! Blogs like Joshua's Psallite Sapienter, Hilary's Orwell's Picnic and Mac's Mulier Fortis illustrate one of the areas I think Simons is wrong. Simons argues diaries will move to things like Facebook where they can connect with those who know the person concerned. But the diarist who genuinely reflects on their experience in ways that can guide others, or provides 'how to live' information will always find a wide readership in my view!

  • The Digest. Summaries of information (with or without commentary) that can be found elsewhere. I've been trying to do a bit of that with my news roundups of Oz and other news. I think it is useful because most people haven't got time (or just can't be bothered!) to comb the internet for information that they might or might not be interested in! I'm not sure that this is generally the domain of bloggers any more though, except in extremely niche markets such as Oz traditionalism - generally news services like CathNews and Zenit (see my sidebar for a more complete list), and Facebook groups, play this role.

  • The News blog - effectively acting as quasi-mainstream news services, often breaking news of interest to the community. The biggest of these in the international traddie world though, I imagine are Fr Z's What does the prayer really say and New Liturgical Movement (though both these are also pamphleteers, see below). The hermaneutic of continuity also services this role, as does Rorate Caeli.

  • The Gatewatcher - basically shows up mainstream media reporting! We so need one of these here. The model I think is Creative Minority Report.

  • The pamphleteer/advocate - umm, well, that might be most of us at times! We write tracts and try and convince you of our perspective...

  • The Popular Mechanic - tells you 'how to do' something. Actually quite a lot of Fr Z takes this form, on rubrical inquiries. And I might be running one or two campaigns in this area myself...(think Scripture reading!).

Missing categories

Now I think there are still at least one or two missing categories from this list. The most important is this: the blogs that provide serious, often quasi-academic think or information pieces - like NLM's articles on the history of the liturgy, Rorate's on the history of the traditional movement. And in fact this seems to be a bit of a growth area at the moment, with quasi-blog sites such as Inside Catholic and The Catholic Thing providing articles that perhaps most resemble the type of content you'd find in the Saturday Review/Magazine sections of the newspaper (albeit with a much more targeted content) - or indeed hardcopy journals like The Remnant, Latin Mass Magasine and local efforts - but dished up daily (and in some cases allowing comments).

Intriguing stuff....

Monday, 15 September 2008

Usus Antiquior Journal Launch

Some nice photos of the launch of the new Usus Antiquior Journal, and spectacular photos of the associated Solemn Vespers for the Feast of the Exaltation of Holy Cross at the Brompton Oratory (oh to live in London again, and have access to sung Sunday Vespers every week!) are online at the Traditional Catholic website, and are copyright Vernon Quaintance.

At left above, the journal's editors, Drs Reid and Hemmings. Below a shot from Vespers to whet your appetite!

Extracts from the various speeches made at the launch, and details of a competition for its design, can be found at theNew Liturgical Movement.

Trad news round-up

          OZ News:

          • Great news from Wangaratta - Fr. Leo Hynes has gladly offered himself available to offer Mass for the people in Wangaratta and surrounding districts on the 4th Sunday of each month. Keep an eye on the Wangaratta blog for times and dates!

          • Kudos to Petersham's Maternal Heart Community for a nice update of their website (finally, up-to-date contact details for the Fraternity in Sydney, thank you!), including some nice pictures, such as that from the Blessing of the Herbs on the Feast of the Assumption, below.

          • Online registrations for the Christus Rex Pilgrimage are now open, so go over and sign-up (and start getting at least a little bit fit in preparation!).

          • Please keep praying for the Abortion Law Bill in Victoria to be voted down - it passed the Lower House, but there is still a chance that the Upper House will vote it down if only for its particularly obnoxious anti-conscientious objector clauses.

          • A vote on a Bill to end Medicare funding of second and third trimester abortions is scheduled for September 17th-18th in the Federal Senate. So please, do contact your State Senators to register your support for the Bill, and urge them to vote for it. Contact details for Senators can be found here.

          • And you can find a nice interview with Fr Glenn Tattersall of Melbourne on Juventutem at World Youth Day over at Rorate Caeli. He makes a compelling case for traditionalist involvement in World Youth Day and the Juventutem movement. And he asks critics: .."what contribution are you making to the life and unity of the Church?" Something we should all ask ourselves regularly I think!

          International News:

          • The Fraternity of St Peter have done a nice update on their history and key statistics on their international site. They currently have 208 priests, 11 deacons, and 128 seminarians from 26 countries.

          • The launch of 'Usus Antiquior', a new academic journal dedicated to the liturgy takes place today (Australian time) in London. You can read more about it here, including registering your interest in subscribing (though the first edition isn't planned to be out until 2010).

          Scripture Reading Plan: The Book of Wisdom

          The Scripture Reading Plan continues with the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, moving today to the Book of Wisdom. Wisdom is extensively used in the liturgy, so is a particularly important text to study and ponder.

          Cultural milieu

          Wisdom is one of those books dubbed deutero-canonical because it was subsequently excluded from the Jewish Scriptural canon on the grounds that it was written in Greek. Its early inclusion in the Christian canon though is attested to by St Melito (died c180), who noted that it was considered canonical by the Jews as well, and it certainly continued to be used by them nonetheless, even (arguably) influencing Jewish liturgy.

          Although sometimes called the Wisdom of Solomon, it was written some time after 200 BC, in Egypt.

          The Navarre commentary points out that it is quite new in several ways compared to the rest of the wisdom literature (and Old Testament). Firstly, unlike Proverbs, it is not just a collection of sayings, but a very carefully constructed work. Secondly, although written to guard against the threat of Hellenism to Jewish identity, it makes a discerning use of Greek philosophy and culture. It introduces the spirit/soul and body distinction for example, and is extremely clear about the idea of the immortality of the soul (unlike for example Ecclesiastes which we have just been reading).

          Structure and themes

          A key message of this book is the superiority of God's revelations to Israel to Greek wisdom. It has three main sections - the first deals with man's destiny and the nature of the afterlife; the second with how to achieve it by following true wisdom; the final section is a reflection on the workings of Divine Providence and how God protects the faithful throughout history.

          The soul is immortal, the book points out, and will be judged by God after death. But wisdom personified is the key to being rewarded by God among the righteous. Its warnings on idolatry and the dangers of living in a hostile culture are particularly valuable for us today! And the final section of the book is essentially an admonition to learn the lessons of history.

          The plan allocates a week to Wisdom, so aim to finish it next Sunday!

          Sunday, 14 September 2008

          The Pope in France

          The Pope is in France until 16 September, and has been saying some important things. France is of course very importantly culturally.

          But it is also one of the most aggressively secular states in Europe, forbidding people even to wear religious symbols such as crosses in schools. And it has some (not positive) similarities with Australia in that although 50-60% of the French are 'culturally catholic', their rate of attendance at Mass is around 10%.

          Give traddies a break bishops!

          Another similarity between our two countries is perhaps the rather antagonistic position of many bishops towards the Traditional Latin Mass, and resistance to the implementation of the Motu Proprio - although in France things are rather more intense due to the much greater strength of the traditional movement there (including more than twenty monasteries), and its origins there with Archbishop LeFebvre.

          No wonder then, that the Pope had to fend off a fairly hostile question on Summorum Pontificum on the plane to France, and point out that Summorum Pontificum was in no way a roll-back of Vatican II, and note that traddies are a very small group whom bishops should show love and tolerance too! You can read the full-text of his comments and debate on what they mean over at Rorate Caeli.

          Mutual enrichment

          And on the great debate, he made a few particualrly interesting comments:

          "I believe there is a possibility for both types to be enriched. On the one hand, the friends of the old liturgy can and should know the new saints, the new prefaces of the liturgy, [a papal pump for the appraoch of Michael Sternbeck's book on the Mass!] etc. But on the other hand, the new liturgy emphasizes the common participation, but it is not just the assembly of a particular community, but rather it is always an act of the universal Church, in communion with all the believers of all time, an act of adoration. In this sense, it seems to me that there is a mutual enrichment, and it is clear that the renewed liturgy is the ordinary liturgy of our time."


          Particularly good to see the Pope take a potshot at those who look forward to priestless parishes and the like, and to hear a Pope talk about vocations, and mean what is traditionally meant by vocations - namely those to the priesthood and religious life!

          Of course discernment is important for everyone. Of course we must all commit to living out our call in whatever state of life we are truly led. And of course married life is vitally important. We are all called to holiness, and sainthood can be achieved in any state of life.

          But the broadening of the term vocation to mean everything from married life to the single life in the world to the priesthood has tended to down play the idea (defined as dogma at Trent) that the call to virginity or celibacy is an objectively higher one than to the married state. And the Church needs those 'special' or 'higher' vocations to survive - it especially needs the power of contemplatives who are dedicated solely to the worship of God in the liturgy; and it needs priests now more than ever!

          Accordingly, he appealed to the young (and, explicitly, the not so young!) to respond to a call to the religious or priestly life:

          "Every time the Mass is celebrated, every time Christ makes himself sacramentally present in his Church, the work of our salvation is accomplished.

          Hence to celebrate the Eucharist means to recognize that God alone has the power to grant us the fullness of joy and teach us true values, eternal values that will never pass away. God is present on the altar, but he is also present on the altar of our heart when, as we receive communion, we receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist. He alone teaches us to shun idols, the illusions of our minds.

          Now, dear brothers and sisters, who can raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord in the name of the entire people of God, except the priest, ordained for this purpose by his Bishop?....allow me to issue an appeal, confident in the faith and generosity of the young people who are considering a religious or priestly vocation: do not be afraid! Do not be afraid to give your life to Christ! Nothing will ever replace the ministry of priests at the heart of the Church! Nothing will ever replace a Mass for the salvation of the world! Dear young and not so young who are listening to me, do not leave Christ's call unanswered." (Mass at Paris)

          The need for beautiful liturgy

          He has also particularly emphasized the need for beautiful liturgy.

          At Vespers he gave a beautiful meditation on the beauty of Notre Dame de Paris, and the importance of architecture in supporting worship. And he said:

          "Your cathedral is a living hymn of stone and light in praise of that act, unique in the annals of human history: the eternal Word of God entering our history in the fulness of time to redeem us by his self-offering in the sacrifice of the Cross.

          Our earthly liturgies, entirely ordered to the celebration of this unique act within history, will never fully express its infinite meaning. Certainly, the beauty of our celebrations can never be sufficiently cultivated, fostered and refined, for nothing can be too beautiful for God, who is himself infinite Beauty. Yet our earthly liturgies will never be more than a pale reflection of the liturgy celebrated in the Jerusalem on high, the goal of our pilgrimage on earth. May our own celebrations nonetheless resemble that liturgy as closely as possible and grant us a foretaste of it!"

          Monasticism, Church-State and more...

          As well as some of his now standard messages about the importance of reading Scripture, and engagement in the public square, the Pope has said a lot of interesting things on French 'laicite', devotion to Mary (see the picture below, taken at Lourdes - both pictures courtesy of the Pap Ratinger Forum) and much more.

          His best speech so far from the perspective of my personal preoccupations (not least to the topic of the thesis I'm currently working on) was a speech to UNESCO and representatives of the United Nations, at which he talked about France's monastic roots. But more on that anon...

          In the meantime, if you want to start reading what he has said so far, go here.

          Exaltation of Holy Cross

          Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of Holy Cross, and of course the first anniversary of the coming into effect of Summorum Pontificum, the freeing of the use of the Traditional Latin Mass.

          So first of all, don't forget EWTN's Solemn Mass in the Extraordinary Form (priests from the Institute of Christ the King) to celebrate the anniversary of Summorum Pontificum - 10pm Sunday Sydney time or 12pm Monday on TV (or see the schedule to which it online.

          Secondly, should you want to reflect on what a year it has been, take a look at the post I wrote on the anniversary of it being issued, back here.

          Thirdly, rather than focusing on the Propers for today (which should be pretty familiar to everyone from Easter), I thought it might be worth reflecting briefly on the great victory the feast represents - in origin and perhaps now.

          The Feast of the Exaltation of Holy Cross - origins

          The Feast was originally instituted to celebrate the recovery of the True Cross following the defeat of the Persians in 629 AD.

          The Persian Empire had been the direst threat to Christendom to that point - the Emperor Heraclius had even considered abandoning Constantinople, deciding to make a historic last stand only after the Patriarch offered him all of the wealth of the Church to fund the fight. But Heraclius managed to rebuild the army of the East Roman Empire, took the field in person, and took the battle to the very capital of Persia, eventually managing to depose their King, Chosroes. Heraclius recovered the True Cross, which had been captured some years earlier, and carried it on his own shoulders through Jerusalem.

          It was, however, to be a short-lived victory - Islamic forces soon moved in and took over most of the Persian Empire, and by the time of Heraclius' death, had made major inroads on the Roman Empire.

          And despite Heraclius' strengths as a military leader and reformer, he is responsible for two key developments which helped widen the developing chasm between the Eastern and Western Churches.

          First he dropped the use of Latin in the Eastern Empire, and embarked on a programme of hellenization. Secondly and even more problematically, with Patriarch Sergius he cooked up the heresy of 'monothelitism' (which claimed that Jesus had two natures but only one will) in an effort to reconcile the monophysites, needed for the fight against Islam. It was one of a series of heresies that led to schisms between East and West, culminating in the great schism of 1054.

          A lesson perhaps in the mysterious workings of God, and the unpredictability of the choices he makes in the people he uses to defend Christendom!

          Exaltation of Holy Cross - its meaning for us today

          Still, the Feast clearly symbolises the idea that the Cross always triumphs in the end, even if the threat seems overwhelming. And perhaps that we should always remember that we can never relax, the next battle is just around the corner, and we need to be preparing for it! Both are messages particularly relevant for Traditionalists as we offer our prayers of thanksgiving for the Holy Father today, for Summorum Pontificum.

          We know that Summorum Pontificum is critical because the liturgy is so central to our faith, and to the battle against the secular city. The Pope is in France at the moment, and has been saying some interesting and important things, both on the roots of European culture in the monasteries and liturgy, and on the relationship between Church and State (calling for a rethinking of the rigid separation that prevails in France). Its important stuff, and I'll blog on it over the next day or two (probably starting later today).

          The challenge for traditionalists now, it seems to me is twofold. First to take full advantage of Summorum Pontificum and spread the Mass far and wide, knowing that this will have subtle but important effects in its own right. The second though is perhaps the bigger challenge, and that is to articulate and spread the traditionalist mindset - recover the true culture of catholicism, and spread that too, back into the wider Church. So give thanks today, and rejoice. But get ready for the next battles and the new war - to restore orthodoxy and orthopraxy more broadly!

          Friday, 12 September 2008

          Monastic news round-up

          There are a few bits of news on the monastic front, so I thought I'd do a bit of a round-up.

          Christ in the Desert

          First the good news. Surely the most thriving Benedictine community in the United States (and giving Fontgombault a good run for its money in terms of number of foundations), Christ in the Desert, is in the process of buying land to set up a new Vietnamese house in Texas. Christ in the Desert uses the novus ordo mass, but the Office in Latin and is very traditionally oriented. The community is hoping to build on the Vietnamese vocations the monastery has already received with the support of the American Vietnamese community. The Monastery, which was founded in 1964, already has three dependent houses (as well as helping out a foundation of woman in New Mexico, associated with Australia's Jambaroo, as well as another monastery in South Africa).

          Subiaco Congregation Extraordinary General Chapter

          Secondly the not so good. Abbot Philip of Christ in the Desert reports that the General Chapter of the Benedictine Subiaco Congregation is currently meeting in Rome to take a look at its situation. The Congregation includes some of the more conservative and stronger monasteries, such as Christ in the Desert, Petersham and Pluscarden. But it is a real mix, also including many less traditionally oriented monasteries such as Australia's very own New Norcia, Jambaroo and Tanby. Many of its houses are suffering from declining vocations, and some will probably have to close.

          I wouldn't hold your breath hoping that this might be forestalled by a return to tradition however. The Abbot President's letter on the Congregation's website contains several exhortations not to be lured in by Tradition and think about returning to the past, and especially to resist the temptation to return to the Rule of St Benedict's actual prescriptions on liturgy (which sustained the monasteries for 1600 years), but rather to stick with 1976. Read it and weep for the monasteries...but perhaps there are some interesting discussions happening given the range of views on such subjects within the congregation!

          Clear Creek ordination

          On a happier note, a recent diaconal ordination at Clear Creek, Oklahoma (Hat tip to New Liturgical Movement for the alert to the photo album), which can be found here, gives a nice sense of the physical and spiritual progress in the building up of the community there! The monks, who are a foundation of Fontgambault, moved into their new monastery a few months back. The next stage of their building project is I believe, the monastic Church - the shots below show the Crypt, which they currently use for services.

          Sons of the Holy Redeemer

          The Sons of the Holy Redeemer (formerly Transalpine Redemptorists) have a nice blog entry with photos on the clothing of a new novice, Brother Gerardo Maria Majella (pictured below).


          And finally, the traditionally oriented Benedictine community of Maria Sedes Sapientiae, located at St Benedict's birthplace in Norcia, Italy, is now up to ten monks. They now have two novices, and over summer had 9 Italian and 4 English speaking men visiting for monastic experience. If you are visiting Italy, this monastery is a must visit for your list - their office is traditional, in Latin, and they have been known to bring in a choir (and even orchestra) for special occasions. Not to mention that Norcia is a gourmet centre, focused on black truffles...

          Scripture Reading Plan: Ecclesiastes

          The Scripture Reading Plan I'm following turns next to the book that immediately follows Proverbs in the Bible, Ecclesiastes, or Qohelet. This is the book that famously begins and ends "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, all is vanity..'

          Ecclesiastes is normally classified as part of the Wisdom literature, but Peter Kreeft describes it as the Bible's only book of philosophy, and I think there is something in that idea, since as he points out there is virtually no appeal to divine revelation in this book; rather the author (though obviously inspired) uses observation and reasoning as his primary tools.

          Its central theme is the futility of life - exposing as Kreeft put it, 'the God-sized hole' in the lives of men who live without a personal relationship with God.

          Its most important insight is that notwithstanding that creation is good and to be enjoyed, nothing in it can fully satisfy us. The author tries various approaches - wisdom, pleasure, wealth and power, honour and prestige, and a legalistic external religion - and all fail to satisfy him. The book itself offers no answers - it is in fact rather pessimistic, urging us to enjoy what we can while we can. Kreeft, however, argues that the rest of the Bible is in effect the answer to the Preacher!

          There is considerable debate over its dating - the author claims to be a son of David (ie Solomon) but most contemporary scholars take this as a literary device, and date it to around 300 BC.

          Anyway, Ecclesiastes only has twelves chapters, so 1-4 are set for today; 5-8 tomorrow and the rest on Sunday.

          Thursday, 11 September 2008

          Catholics don't read the Bible...

          A story in the Sydney Morning Herald today (picked up by CathNews) reports that Australians in general - and Catholics in particular - just aren't reading the Bible.

          Of those who go to church, apparently 21 percent read their Bible daily, 14 percent open it a few times a week and 6 percent once a week.

          But around a quarter of those surveyed said they read their Bibles only occasionally, 18 percent hardly ever and 17 percent said they never read the Bible on their own. Catholics are the worst - 59% admitted to rarely consulting their Bibles.

          OK so we like Tradition....but Scripture too!

          I'd have to say I think this is a pretty woeful state of affairs! In the medieval period, even those who couldn't read for themselves often knew large chunks of the Bible off by heart - in fact the regular cycle of readings in the traditional Mass rather facilitated that. Despite all the myths about poor catechization and use of Latin being a barrier, the process of hearing God's word was taken seriously, and used as a source of meditation.

          Knowing Scripture well is important - past events and people should serve as types to guide us in our actions; the wisdom texts as a formation for our conduct; and the words of the prophets as warnings. Above all, how can we follow Christ if we don't take the opportunity to encounter the Word directly?

          Today, despite our missals and sheets with the propers on them, I doubt if many of us could remember what the Gospel was two weeks back, let alone give the gist of it....

          And the lack of a good knowledge of the Bible makes Catholics more vulnerable to the Protestant evangelizers who are apparently about to launch a new onslaught.

          The upcoming Synod

          Of course there are some good reasons for Catholics to be reluctant to tackle the Bible, not the least of which is the lack of good contemporary commentaries. The Fathers of course are an excellent starting point, and I'd highly recommend reading the Gospels for example using St Thomas' Catena Aurea.

          But it would be pretty useful too to have something that drew on the insights of the best contemporary scholarship, and provided useful apologetics pointers on key verses. There are a few resources around that go some way in this direction (I'm not a Scott Hahn fan, but the Ignatius commentaries on Scripture, for example, are actually pretty good if overly terse and relatively expensive).

          The trouble is, Catholic exegesis is in a pretty sorry state at the moment. In fact the best read on this is really the Pope's book, Jesus of Nazareth.

          However, hopefully that will all be fixed soon, with the upcoming Synod on Scripture, to which Cardinal Pell has been appointed as one of the Presidential members.....

          In the meantime, if you aren't following the Scripture reading plan that I've been writing about from time to time (we are just about to finish Proverbs, and are scheduled to start Ecclesiastes on Friday) do consider taking up some other structured way of doing a little lectio divina, perhaps focusing on the Gospel set for each Sunday. That way, the next time they survey, Catholics will look a bit better in the stats...and perhaps be the holier for it!

          Wednesday, 10 September 2008

          The prayers at the foot of the altar...louder please!

          Let me premise these comments by apologising in advance for what is really a bit of a rant. I love the sung mass.

          I go to a low mass in the absence of one - and in strong preference to a novus ordo, all things being equal. But I still regard the low mass as a very distant second best. I don't mind the silence at the Offertory and the Canon of the Mass (quite the contrary- I think it works at that point).

          But although I'm doing my best to learn to love it, I have to say, the silent version of the prayers at the foot of the altar bothers me. And Mass with the priest saying all the responses, something I experience often enough to be an issue, bothers me even more. In fact I wonder if both these practices are not abuses (ok, the former one maybe not strictly speaking an abuse but still...).

          Why every Mass should be a sung mass!

          I guess my view is that a low Mass works well at a (beautiful) side altar with a very small congregation. Even more so when several Masses are happening simultaneously. But in a larger (and often uglier) Church, it is hard for its intrinsic merits to be as readily appreciated.

          One of the peculiarities of the Low (traditional) Mass in my view, is the wide range of different approaches to saying it. Take volume. Some priests say it virtually all sotto voce. Some say everything except the silent bits quite loudly. Some servers follow the priest in the volume they use - others murmur their responses inaudibly even when the priest speaks quite loudly.

          Personally, I want to hear these prayers (and the other things the rubrics indicate should be spoken in an audible voice such as the readings) - not least because it is hard to assist at something if you can't even tell whether or not it has actually started!

          A traddie touchstone?

          The prayers at the foot of the altar seem to be one of those touchstone issues for liturgical purists - the french Benedictines for example, regularly seem to get blasted in various forums for dropping them in the conventual mass when it is joined to one of the hours of the Office (presumably the theological rationale being that the priest was well and truly prepared to celebrate the sacred mysteries by the liturgy he had just sung).

          I have to admit I find it hard to get worked up about whether or not they are dropped a la 1965 or not. True they are rather beautiful. But in the sung mass of course, they are completely inaudible to the congregation (not that that's necessarily important), and personally I tend to get distracted by the singing of the Introit. There are other ways for both priest and congregation to prepare adequately.

          But if they are being said in the low Mass I do like to hear them - particularly the Confiteor (especially in the absence of it being said before communion - I want that Absolution to be clearly applied to me)!

          But as I said above, some priests say them audibly, others don't. In fact Valle Adurni recently related the story of an Oratorian priest who felt so strongly over the issue that when a ruling came down that the mike had to be on for them, refused to say the TLM publicly at all.

          The theology of the prayers

          The rationale for the inaudible prayers, I gather, is that this section of the Mass really is between the server and the priest - they are, after all, the ones who are entering into the altar of the Lord.

          The logical extension of this view is that if there is no server, then a person from the Congregation shouldn't step in and give the responses. And, as I've recently discovered, there are priests who take this view. Some won't allow a woman to say the responses. Others won't allow anyone.

          I think there are two problems with this view, one theological, one rubrical.

          First the theology of the prayers. While they certainly focus on 'going in to the altar of the Lord', a restrictive interpretation of this seems over-literal to me. After all, the priest has actually already gone up to the altar once.

          The prayers are after all, meant as preparation for offering the Mass, and all of those present, as Mediator Dei points out, assist in the Mass, albeit not in the same way. While the psalm that forms the centrepiece of these prayers talks about going into the altar of the Lord, and can be taken as referring to the clear separation of priest and people in the Jewish Temple, unlike the Jewish approach (or the Orthodox), that level of rigid separation where the sacrifice is conducted behind closed doors, is not part of the Latin rite of the Mass as we know it today.

          In fact, St Robert Bellarmine's commentary on the psalm puts the Introibo ad altare Dei verse in the context of Apocalypse 5 ('Though hast made us to our God a kingdom and priests'), pointing to the priesthood of all the baptised, rather than just referring to the Ministerial priesthood.

          True, the priest acts for and on behalf of the people at the altar, standing as alter Christus - but, as Pius XII put it, he also acts 'in company with the people'.

          Rubrical issues

          The second issue (and closely related) is the idea of Mass without a server and without anyone making the responses. Saying a Mass without any ministers was repeatedly condemned as an abuse in years after Trent.

          In fact Canon 813 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law (which surely applies to the 1962 Mass) specifically says: 'Sacerdos Missam ne celebret sine ministro qui eidem inserviat et respondeat.' Sub-section two of the same canon goes on to allow someone from the congregation, even a woman, to make the responses in the absence of a server if there is a good reason for the Mass to proceed (such as, presumably the presence of a congregation at a scheduled mass).

          So I think the prayers at the foot of the altar should be audible, and if necessary, said by someone in the Congregation! But am I missing something?

          Of course, the ideal solution is only have sung Masses...