Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Traddie picture of the day: Franciscans of the Immaculate

Processing through the cloister on the way to priestly ordination of five men, performed by Archbishop Burke recently in Italy. Picture from John Sonnen.

Holy Week Benedictine Office Part II: Maundy Thursday

So, continuing my notes on the Office of Holy Week, on to Maundy Thursday.

It's really when you reach the Sacred Triduum that you need to do a bit of planning ahead, because what Holy Week ceremonies you attend affects the Office.

Now I'm going to be talking about the Extraordinary Form here, because the traditional Benedictine Office connects closely to it - and in fact as far as I can see, over the Triduum, the Benedictine and Roman Offices are pretty much identical. So those trying to fit things with the OF will have to look at their own missals and see what works!

Tenebrae for Maundy Thursday - saying Matins and Lauds the night before

The first point to note is that traditionally, Matins and Lauds are effectively combined without a break, and, outside a monastery, often sung the night before (though the best thing of course is to get up very early so you can do it all in the pre-dawn darkness!). So if you can get to a Tenebrae service on Wednesday night do (just remember to say Vespers and Compline for Holy Wednesday before you go)!

It is a particularly beautiful service, but even if there isn't one on in your area, you can make do by yourself - you'll find it in a Liber Usualis, or online at breviary.net (and other places). You could even find yourself fifteen candles (those little table circle things will at least be a token, in the privacy of your home!), which you extinguish one by one as each psalm is said. And of course, if you happen to have a nice recording of the Tenebrae responsories and/or the Lamentations (the readings), you could play them while you say the appropriate texts...It is however a long service - in choir, count on at least three hours.

So if you just want to stick with Lauds, the Monastic Diurnal gives the text, at 265* (note that it starts straightoff from the antiphon with no preliminaries). You will also find that the hour has been trimmed down a bit, so there is no chapter, responsory or hymn.

One of the particularly beautiful features of the Office is the closing antiphon - Christus factus est. Each day of the Triduum, an extra phrase is added to it. And for those who sing the propers at mass, the tone is the same as the Gradual with the same text.

No Gloria Patri

Another big change in the Office for the Triduum is that the Gloria Patri is dropped from the end of each psalm - be careful, it is so automatic it is easy to forget this one!

Minor hours

These too are greatly slimmed down, giving a very solemn character, with no hymn or even antiphons. The psalm tones are not used. For these few days, most of the Office is a chant free zone (mind you if you've sung all of the antiphons, psalms and responsories of Tenebrae, and are going on to sing at the various Holy Week ceremonies, you will appreciate the break)!

To vespers or not?

And there is another freebie here too - if you go to the evening Mass, you don't say vespers! Just in case you can't get to Mass (or feel compelled to say it anyway in line with slightly older practice, in which case you will need to squeeze it before you go to mass), however, the Monastic Diurnal does give the text for them on page 296*. My 1928 monastic holy week book actually has vespers being said before the stripping of the altar (just after the Pange Lingua is sung in the 1962 EF mass), so I suspect that its removal was one of the 195os changes (but maybe its a 62ism?).

Compline (which begins at the confiteor, and includes the Nunc Dimittis) is, like the other hours, properly sung on one note immediately after the stripping of the altar in the Church.

Tenebrae for Good Friday

And because of the late night on Thursday, few communities do Tenebrae on Thursday night, so plan on doing it privately as part of your adoration, or in the early morning!

Monday, 30 March 2009

Condoms in PNG

And one more (I'm going to have to get rid of the news feeds from my computer's homepage!)!

On the day when the Washington Post acknowledges that the Pope is correct about the ineffectiveness of condoms in combating AIDS comes the news that our taxpayer dollars are being used to fund a massive condom distribution campaign in Papua New Guinea.

According to the ABC , "..two per cent of the PNG population is believed to be infected with the virus that causes AIDS. But millions of condoms bought with aid money to stop its spread have expired because the National Aids Council does not have the resources to distribute them."

So, not content with wasting one lot of foreign aid money, and instead adopting evidence-based approaches - they've bought more (courtesy of the Australian taxpayer), and are using the PNG Defence Force to distribute them...

Fr Dresser on South Brisbane: theological illiteracy at play...

It seems to be one of those days (and yes I should be working on my thesis rather than reading this stuff)!

But remember Fr Peter Dresser, the guy who wrote the infamous book questioning the divinity of Jesus, and who is (still) a parish priest in the diocese of Bathurst?

Well over at Acatholica, they are discussing the latest in the Brisbane saga, and actually in general the view seems to be that Fr Kennedy really had gone even the limits of what a liberal catholic would accept! Until in steps Fr Dresser arguing that he should have been allowed to continue in his disobedience, and adding this clanger:

"I might also add, just in passing, that there is a clear distinction in liturgical law between "legality" and "validity" when it comes to the celebration of the Sacraments or any other liturgical rituals. While undoubtedly there are quite a number of questions regarding the legality of the liturgical practices at St Mary's, I feel that from what I have read, seen and heart, there is no question regarding their validity. [Actually there is a question on their validity. That's why something had to be done.] To baptise in the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier [specifically ruled as INVALID by the CDF] or to use the words "I forgive you your sins" rather than "I absolve you from your sins" [Of doubtful validity, though I haven't seen a specific ruling on this one.] may very well be illegal formulae but they would not, I believe, invalidate the Sacraments of Baptism or Reconciliation respectively. Similarly, the Mass has an approved Eucharistic Prayer and is presided over by an ordained priest. Whatever other irregularities occur, the Mass must be regarded as a valid celebration of the Eucharist." [Firstly, Fr Kennedy wasn't using the approved Eucharistic prayer, but something the community made up themselves. Matter, form, qualified celebrant, qualified recipient, intention are all required for validity of a sacrament. On the face of it more than one of these seem likely to be absent...].

He then goes on to discuss attempts to find 'more meaningful ways' of putting things in relation to the Virgin birth, etc.

Don't go read it. It will just make you madder.

Bring on the appointment of a new (and orthodox!) bishop of Bathurst, willing and able to tackle another festering problem!

And tomorrow I'm only going to report on good news stories - so please send me some!

Islam in Australia:'Violent cause, fearful effect'

It is rare these days to find people publicly standing up and calling Islam for what it is. The Pope, of course, has, and he reiterated his Regensberg comments on the problem of a religion that does not accord a place to reason during his recent African trip (comments one might add, that received very little coverage).

But particularly surprising to see it in the Sydney Morning Herald, where Paul Sheehan writes today about a request from a graduate student 'trying to prove whether Islamophobia is based on religion fear or cultural fear of Islam'. He suggests a better starting point might be whether Islamophobia exists at all - or is simply a reasoned response to events.

Islam and the power of reason

It is worth first taking a look at what the Pope had to say on the role of reason. At a meeting with Islamic representatives in Cameroon he said:

"My friends, I believe a particularly urgent task of religion today is to unveil the vast potential of human reason, which is itself God’s gift and which is elevated by revelation and faith.

Belief in the one God, far from stunting our capacity to understand ourselves and the world, broadens it. Far from setting us against the world, it commits us to it....

When men and women allow the magnificent order of the world and the splendour of human dignity to illumine their minds, they discover that what is “reasonable” extends far beyond what mathematics can calculate, logic can deduce and scientific experimentation can demonstrate; it includes the goodness and innate attractiveness of upright and ethical living made known to us in the very language of creation.

This insight prompts us to seek all that is right and just, to step outside the restricted sphere of our own self-interest and act for the good of others.

Genuine religion thus widens the horizon of human understanding and stands at the base of any authentically human culture. It rejects all forms of violence and totalitarianism: not only on principles of faith, but also of right reason. Indeed, religion and reason mutually reinforce one another since religion is purified and structured by reason, and reason’s full potential is unleashed by revelation and faith. "

Meanwhile back in Australia...

Contrast this call to build a 'civilization of love' then, with the actual events of the last few weeks that Paul Sheehan points to:

  • A gang of about 100 young Muslim men moving through the centre of the Sydney intimidating, harassing and beating bystanders at the Mardi Gras on March 6;
  • Murder of Abdul Darwiche on March 15, shot to death in a shopping centre in the latest hyper-violence involving two warring Lebanese Muslim clans. Hundreds of mourners attended his funeral at Lakemba mosque, despite a torrid family history of violence and murder (one brothr was later arrested for driving around with a loaded pistol. A third brother is serving a life sentence for a double murder, and also stole rocket launchers from the army..).
  • The ever controversial Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly apparently called police about vandalism to the mosque which he had in fact committed....
  • Another rape sentence was handed down, bringing the total to more than 30 young Muslim men involved in serious proven sexual assaults of non-Muslim girls in Sydney;
  • And in the midst of bikie wars, news that there has been an infusion of young Muslim men into the bikie culture.

It is time we got serious about tackling the issue, and that means not just tackling gangs, as Sheehan suggests (though that would be a good start), but looking at our immigration mix, considering how we can protect our cultural heritage, and launching a serious attempt to convert Muslims in Australia to Christianity. Of course, on that last point, we probably need to start by getting a bit more serious about our faith ourselves.

What would Jesus do?

Fr Z has put up a mock interview between Bishop Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island and President Obama, written by the bishop, and basically setting out how he would take him to task for his pro-abortion views.

Apparently, the bishop copped a bit of flak for this, and as a result wrote a great follow-up piece, which I think has some enduring relevance for us all! So here are a few key extracts from it.

Jesus wasn't always nice!

"...The other premise of my critics seems to be that because we are Christians we should never be angry or challenge others. We should always be charitable, tolerant, kind and nice, they suggest. After all, isn’t that what Jesus would do?

Well, in fact, no. The Gospels are very clear that in confronting moral evil Jesus wasn’t at all nice or kind. We usually think of Jesus as a prophet of peace, and indeed He was. But His preaching also created bitter controversy and division. “I have come to set the earth on fire . . . Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Lk 12: 49, 51)

Think of Jesus cleansing the Temple, an incident recorded in all four Gospels. Jesus entered the Temple angrily, confronted the merchants and money-changers, made a whip out of cords, drove them away and upset their tables and booths. Doesn’t sound too charitable to me!

Jesus railed against the towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum for their lack of faith, and predicted a terrible judgment day for those towns. “You will go down the netherworld,” He warned. (Mt 11: 23) Doesn’t sound too charitable to me!

And of course there’s Jesus’ withering condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees. He repeatedly called them hypocrites. He described them as “blind guides . . . whitewashed tombs . . . serpents . . . brood of vipers . . . and murderers.” (Cf. Mt, Chapter 23) Doesn’t sound too charitable to me!

There are other examples, but you get the point. In confronting moral evil, Jesus wasn’t nice, kind, gentle and sweet. He lived in a rough and tumble world and He took His message to the streets. He was a fearless prophet who spoke the truth sometimes with harsh and angry language. Jesus’ condemnations infuriated public officials and religious leaders, so much so that they were determined to kill Him. And indeed they did.

True charity lies in truth

In using condemnatory language was Jesus being “uncharitable?” Of course not. It was precisely because He loved people, because He was concerned for their salvation, that He spoke the truth, that He condemned their immoral, sinful behavior.

And that should be the mission of the Church today. Sometimes as Catholics we’re hesitant to challenge the immoral behavior of others, including public officials, because we don’t want to appear judgmental or uncharitable. Our society urges us to be “tolerant” of other people and their behavior, even if it’s objectively wrong. But it’s precisely because we love others that we should never tolerate immoral behavior. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver has written so well, “Tolerance is not an end in itself, and tolerating or excusing grave evil in a society is itself a grave evil . . . And it is not a Christian virtue.” (Render Unto Caesar, p. 145-146)

...As a religious leader, though, charged with carrying on the prophetic mission of Christ, I have the right, and in fact the duty, to challenge his immoral actions. I do so because Christian charity requires me to do so, because I love my country and I believe in the sanctity of human life. As St. Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” (I Cor 9:16)"

Implications for us

Now none of this is to say that we should spend all our time going around pointing out sin and scandal and calling people to repentance. Firstly, it is always good advice for us to look for the mote in our own eye first! Secondly, we are not all bishops, entrusted with the teaching office of the Church, or called to take on each and every cause that we stumble across. Nonetheless, as catholics we do have a duty to engage on issues that concern us all, and I think the key message here is that we shouldn't be deterred from doing so by the 'culture of niceness' that is trying to smother truth in our society.

And isn't it wonderful to see a courageous bishop speak out!

The Benedictine Office in Holy Week - Part I, Monday - Wednesday

OK, so its going to look as if I'm blogging a lot this week, but in fact most of this is pre-programmed! But if you have any questions or queries on rubrics etc, do ask, and I'll do my best to get back to you.

In any case, I've prepared a little series on the Divine Office for Holy Week, particularly aimed at helping those using the Farnborough Monastic Diurnal. And I'm doing it a week in advance so that everyone can take the chance to look through it and plan and prepare well in advance!

Why you need to plan ahead...

The liturgy of Holy Week is the Church's most solemn offering - and that means its most complex! There are some practical issues here - if you attend some of the ceremonies of Holy Week, you don't need to say some of the hours. Also, it is customary to anticipate some of the hours (such as Tenebrae, or Matins and Lauds of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday), which means you need to be ready for that!

More fundamentally though, when saying the Office, you need to pay attention firstly to the words and body postures - making sure that the words are pronounced properly and so forth. Then to the sense of what you are saying - so it is worthwhile studying the antiphons, hymns and psalms in advance, as translations notwithstading, the sense isn't always immediately obvious, and there is always scope to penetrate further into the meaning of Scripture! And of course above all you need to pay attention to praying to God, and to do that effectively, you need to have sorted out the other two levels of action.

So taking some time to prepare ahead will help make your Holy Week holier hopefully!


Palm Sunday is pretty straightforward, following the normal structure for a Sunday, so I won't go into that for the moment. But for today, some notes on the Office for Monday to Wednesday of Holy Week.

Antiphons for Lauds

The main thing to notice is that at Lauds, there are a special set of antiphons to use each day, even though the normal psalms for each day are used.

So on Monday for example, Lauds goes as follows:

Deus in adjutorium...Laus tibi domine... (normal opening with the Lenten ending), MD 58

Psalm 66 (normal daily invitory psalm), MD 58

Antiphon: Faciem meam... (Antiphon 1 for the Monday of Holy Week, MD 260*)
Psalm 50, (First psalm of lauds) MD 60
Faciem meam..(repeat antiphon 1)

Framea...(Antiphon 2 for the Monday of Holy Week)
Psalm 5 (Second psalm for Monday Lauds), MD62

And so on for each of the five (psalms/canticle/groups of psalms)!

The rest of Lauds

Then once you've said the psalms, you need to turn to the Ordinary of the ferial office for passiontide (MD 240*) - as you will have been doing for the last week in any case - for the chapter, responsory, hymn and versicle.

There is a special antiphon for the Benedictus each day (as has been the case throughout Lent), so MD 261* for Monday. And the ending of the hour is as usual, with the collect for the day also on 261*.

The minor hours

The main thing to remember here is to use the antiphons from lauds - so the first antiphon on Monday at Prime, and so forth up to the fourth antiphon which is used at Nones. Same thing on Tuesday (MD 262*) and Wednesday (MD 263*). Don't forget to use the chapter and versicles set for each hour for Passiontide, and the collect of the day.


Curiously, vespers continues to use the normal, year around antiphons and psalms! So all you have to worry about is using the correct chapter, responsory, hymn etc, from MD 244*, and of course the antiphon for the Magnificat and collect which is set for each day.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

And just when your thought the South Brisbane farce was over...

Fr Kennedy plans to set up 'St Mary's in exile' 200 metres away from the Church, in the Trades and Labour Hall, starting on April 20, according to the Courier Mail. So just why did the archdiocese agree to such a long delay - allowing more time for them to get organized?

On the plus side, there is something to be said for letting error flourish outside the nominal confines of the Church, rather than inside it, and this will certainly make things easier for the new administrator...

The paper reports (with my comments):

"REBEL priest Peter Kennedy has vowed to create a church "in exile" just 200 metres from the Brisbane Catholic church he is being forced [!] to leave.

St Mary's Catholic Church in South Brisbane will be handed back to Archbishop John Bathersby next month after Fr Kennedy was removed as administrator.

The archbishop in February sacked Fr Kennedy for refusing to stop unorthodox practices such as blessing gay couples and selling books that questioned the divinity of Jesus. [Not to mention his own erroneous views on the divinity of Christ. And his refusal to actually baptize people. And follow the rubrics of the Mass. And the list goes on...]

Father Kennedy initially refused to go and threatened legal action, but under a mediation deal agreed with the diocese on Thursday [I really hope that deal doesn't in any way preclude suitable further action against Fr Kennedy..], will now hold his final mass at St Mary's church on April 19.

St Mary's community council chairwoman Margaret Ortiz earlier said Fr Kennedy's backers were devastated that an end date had been set for him. "The community believes the process has been unjust and unfair," Ms Ortiz said. "The community also strongly believes Peter Kennedy has not caused ecclesiastical harm."

Thousands of people turned out for masses led by Fr Kennedy despite his sacking, to show their support.

Now, the congregation is preparing to move to the Trades and Labour Council [thank you labour movement...] building for weekly masses.

Fr Kennedy on Sunday told reporters he expected the vast majority of St Mary's congregation to go with him to the new community, to be called "St Mary's In Exile". [!]

"I think 95 per cent of the people we have now will come to the new place," he said.
Fr Kennedy said he was still a Catholic priest with the right to conduct masses and baptisms. [Well actually anyone, even a non-catholic can, in principle, baptize - provided they actually say the right words and intend to do what the Church wants, something Fr Kennedy seems to have a problem with. And on masses, one assumes that he will shortly be laicized, making any such masses illicit. Quite why he hasn't already been excommunicated or suspended is unclear, but presumably that will happen on April 20...]

He said the Trades and Labor Council building would not be the new community's permanent home, and the hunt was on to find a place to rent.

Fr Kennedy will begin holding mass at the new location on April 20, starting with a march from St Mary's."

If today you don't hear his voice!

Passiontide marks the last stretch of Lent!

The key question is, how is your Lent going?

Throughout Passiontide, the antiphon for the invitory at matins (at least in the Benedictine Office) is 'If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart'. And the Gospel today puts the meaning of this with a nice counterpoint, with Our Lord's saying 'He who is of God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear is that you are not of God'.

It is a sharp warning, and I think one of the key things we should be listening for and embracing is the call to greater attention to our Lenten resolutions as we enter these last two weeks of the penitential season.

So far so good?

There are, I think three main possibilities - you've put in a reasonably good effort so far, and are hopefully feeling some positive benefits; you've been pathetically bad at keeping your resolutions or doing anything much; or you've kept the letter of the law in terms of doing something penitential, but its been a pretty lukewarm business.

Now if you are in either of the latter two categories, today is the day to make a new, firm resolution, and make the most of these last two weeks of Lent. There is nothing worse, I think, than tepidity, and if you really want to make the most of the feasting, spiritual and literal, that comes with Easter, you need to do some fasting first!

Flagging on fasting?

But even if you are (more or less) in the first category, you may well be flagging at this point (I know I am!).

I don't know about you, but even with the feasts of the last couple of weeks and one quasi-festal personal occasion courtesy of a visitor (the Rule of St Benedict has something of a let out clause on fasting when it comes to looking after visitors, although it is certainly possible to stick to the letter of the law while entertaining, if not perhaps the spirit!), but I'm pretty much at the point where I look at the big container of the bean or lentil soup I've prepared for the week sitting in my fridge all ready for dinner with a decided lack of enthusiasm!

Now it's not that bean and/or lentil soup can't be tasty - toss in a few herbs and fresh veges from the garden and it generally is. And it is not that that is all I'm eating - I do a few other dishes for variety a day or two a week. But since I don't eat much meat normally, it isn't really much of a sacrifice for me to give up meat for Lent, so I thought a mainly soup regime, combined with fasting, was a good way of ratcheting up my observance (and somewhat over-optimistically, to lose weight!). Surprisingly perhaps, cutting out lunch, isn't really that hard, nor is eating less: those hunger pains can induce a virtuous glow! Lentils alas do not (and while maybe that aids the penitential feel of the thing, I'm not totally convinced that doing things you actively dislike is necessarily beneficial spiritually)...In an earlier era, however, these last two weeks marked an even stricter fast, so it is worth reminding ourselves that we have it pretty easy, and see what we can do to toughen it up a bit for the final stretch!

Prayer, spiritual reading and almsgiving

It is not just fasting that we need to make fresh resolutions on though, but also the other works appropriate to Lent.

I have to admit that while I'm very much enjoying my Lent book (Dom Augustine Baker's Holy Wisdom) I'm going to be working hard over the next two weeks to get it finished!

This period is also a bit of a chance for those who say some or all of the Office to savour it a little more. We all occasionally get stuck in the mode of just getting through it all (particularly those who are bound to say it), without necessarily making the most of its spiritual treasures. But the Passiontide and Holy Week Office has some wonderful things in it - so maybe consider actually singing, not just saying, - and then meditating on - hymns like Vexilla Regis and Pange lingua.

And those who don't say the Office might consider adding something by way of prayer (if you haven't already), such as some of the devotional Office of the Holy Cross

So, take the advice of Pope St Gregory the Great in today's readings for Matins, who says:

"..let each one ask himself if he perceives the words of God in the ear of his heart and understands whence they come. The Truth commands you to long for the heavenly homeland, to crush the desires of the flesh..."

Traditionalist picture of the occasional day: diaconal ordinations at Gricigliano

I'm amazed (but pleased) that the Cooees have resisted this one (but there are plenty of other great photos from the event...), which shows Cardinal Rode after the ordination to the diaconate of six men for the Institute of Christ the King, on the feast of St Benedict.

Easter Mass times and coming events...

Folks, I've put up a sidebar for Holy Week and Easter ceremony times - please do send me your programs, particularly for the benefit of those who may be visiting at Eastertime (either put them in a comment here, or email to australiaincognita@gmail.com)!

Upcoming events

Divine Mercy Pilgrimage - Don't forget that registration closes this week, on April 2.

It starts on Thursday 16th April (Thursday after Easter) with a Solemn Mass at St Michael's Cathedral, Wagga Wagga at 7.45 am. The celebrant will be Fr Kim Holland. The pilgrimage ends at the Marian Hills Shrine on Low Sunday. There will be sung Masses each day, ending with a Solemn High Mass at the Shrine [EF] at 9am and Pontifical Mass at the Shrine at 12.30pm [OF] celebrated by Bishop Hanna.

Flavigny monk Ignatian retreats - book now for Plumpton (Sydney) December 3-8 and 13-18.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Benedictine Ordo for week of 28 March - Passiontide

A change of seasons again, as we enter Passiontide from Vespers tonight, and the Office takes on a greater focus on the coming passion and Cross of Our Lord. And that means new hymns for Lauds and Vespers, new chapters, and so forth - do make sure you read carefully through the Ordinary for the Office from page 240* onwards, before you say the hours!

Also, if you are new to the Office, you might also want to start looking ahead at Holy Week and Easter, because it is a little more complex than usual....

Saturday, 28 March - Class III

MD 231*

I Vespers of First Passiontide Sunday MD 232*

Sunday, 29 March - Class I


Monday, 30 March - Class III

MD 246*

Tuesday, 31 March - Class III

MD 247*

Wednesday, 1 April - Class III

MD 248*

Thursday, 2 April - Class III

MD 249*

Friday, 3 April - Class III

MD 250*

Saturday, 4 April - Class III with a commemoration of St Isidore

MD 252*, [107]

First Vespers of Psalm Sunday MD 252*

Remember that the Office is the liturgical prayer of the Church!

Chatting to a friend recently on the problems of learning to sing the Office, I remembered that I’ve read a couple of posts on various blogs recently by people who have just received their new breviaries (or diurnals or whatever), and so have opened them up to the appropriate hour and just started praying – only to run into problems in working out whether or not they said the right thing.

And we are coming up to the Tenebrae season. Now some choirs are old hands at this. But others may be inclined to just ‘have a go’ at it.

So I thought it might be timely to reflect on the implications of the fact that the Office is liturgy - the official, public prayer of the Church.

Liturgy vs devotions

There is a key distinction that needs to be made between private devotions and liturgical prayer. Devotions, whether in a particular approved form (such as the rosary) or in the particular forms of our choice are essentially our own offering and we can pick or choose in them as we like (subject to any specific guidance from the Church). Liturgy on the other hand is a formal action of the Church.

Before Vatican II priests and religious were formally delegated by the Church to say the Office, and private recitation by the laity was generally devotional rather than liturgical. I’m not sure when this distinction came about, but I suspect it has its origins in Trent.

Vatican II (and the new Code of Canon Law), however, changed this. Now, generally speaking, the Office, provided you are using it is in an approved form (and that includes the Little Office of Our Lady, and pre-Vatican II forms of the Office), even when said by a layperson in private, you are performing liturgy (CL 1174).

Prepare it properly

That has some major implications. For a start it means that the principles that apply to the Mass – such as ‘say the black, do the red’ – apply just as much to the Office as they do to the Masss.

No one would expect a priest to rock up to his first mass never having opened the liturgical books in advance, never having practiced what he has to do. So we shouldn’t expect to just start saying the Office either. You should make sure before you start that you know what you are doing by studying the text and instructions carefully, and practicing in advance if necessary.

Giving glory to God

Liturgy in general arguably has three purposes – first and foremost to give God the worship he is due, secondly our sanctification, and thirdly to unite us to each other. It is the vertical dimension, worship, that tends to get lost in the Ordinary Form of the Mass these days. But what I always find odd is that traditionalists who decry the make it up as you go along/anything goes approach to the mass often seem quite prepared to take just this approach when it comes to the Office, even in public.

Now I know that there are two schools of thought on this. On the one hand there are those who advocate allowing people to join in, for example in singing the Ordinary at Mass, even when the would-be singers are tone deaf, or don’t really know the tunes well. Thomas a Kempis for example says ‘If you cannot sing like the nightingale and the lark, then sing like the crows and the frogs, which sing as God meant them to’!

The better view, however, in my opinion at least is that of St Benedict, who emphasizes that liturgy should strive to be worthy of and make present on earth in a small way God’s great glory, and thus only those whose singing edifies the listeners should be permitted to do so. He requires those who make mistakes in the Office (and mistakes are inevitable, no matter how much one practices and prepares) to acknowledge their fault and make reparation for it. And in fact, the Church has, in past eras, encouraged the saying of a prayer after the Office (the Sacrosanctum) to obtain forgiveness of such faults.


So if you are planning to start saying the Office, or are already saying it regularly, do make sure you prepare in advance, so you know exactly which psalms, readings and prayers are set for that day and hour, and know the rubrics.

Secondly, if you are going to sing it, make sure you know the psalm tones (and ideally have a pointed version to sing from unless you know it very well indeed), antiphons and hymns – and be prepared to sing what you don’t know well enough recto tono (on one note).

And when you are saying or singing it, do so with due care! If your parish or community is singing Tenebrae and you don’t know it well (and the chant versions of some of those responsories are very testing indeed) or struggle to sing in tune, sing very very quietly or better still just listen!

But do say the Office!

Having said all that, singing or saying the Office is a great privilege, and one the Church encourages all of us to engage in. And of course there is always a learning curve that has to be allowed for before one becomes completley proficient.

I don’t personally think most laypeople should attempt to say all of the hours of the traditional Office at least – it takes up a lot of time that might be more appropriately devoted to duties of state of life, including advancing the mission of the Church in the world one way or another. But making at least a few 'hours' of the Office a regular part of your (or your parishes) spiritual regime is a great way of sanctifying the day or week.

Tenebrae in particular - the Offices of Matins and Lauds for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday - is one of the most beautiful ceremonies of the liturgical year and well worth attending if you can.

Friday, 27 March 2009

PS Break through on St Mary's?

Cath News reports that there has been a break through on the impasse at St Mary's and Fr Kennedy will say his last mass there on April 19. The terms of the agreement are not yet public.

Gah! Bishop Robinson, Frank Brennan and the liberal mafia strike again...

I've been trying to resist devoting time to blogging (and blog reading) this week in order to focus (round 1001) on pulling together a coherent draft of my thesis (and I've made some progress. A little bit. Well may be).

But before I could launch into today's effort I made the mistake of checking my inbox and reading an article by Fr Frank Brennan SJ in Eureka Street, lured in by a reference to St Mary's. And I have to admit I'm sufficiently outraged to blog straightaway (yes I know I shouldn't be. It is really nothing that new. But really...!).

Bishop Robinson and that book

In fact it turns out that the article is primarily a commercial for a seminar tomorrow in Sydney on Bishop Robinson's book, Confronting Sex and Power in the Catholic Church. You might recall that last year our bishops issued a statement noting that the book suffered from doctrinal difficulties and inappropriately questions the teaching authority of the Church.

So in the light of that you might expect that faithful catholics would avoid buying the book, and certainly wouldn't be planning to attend a seminar on the thing. Well, faithful catholics mightn't but it seems that 300 odd dissenters, led by Geraldine Doogue, Fr Frank, Barry Brundell msc, Tim O’Hearn and Michael Whelan sm have no such inhibitions. And given this cast, we can no doubt expect to see a slew of media coverage of the event.

And of course Cath News, running true to form, helpfully includes Fr Brennan's piece in its articles for today (isn't cathnews funded by the bishops??).

The only positive thing one can say is that Cardinal Pell has forbidden them to use church premises for the occasion.

The space for legitimate debate

The most insidious thing about all this though, is Fr Brennan's argument in his article that if everyone just dialogued a bit more - Fr Kennedy and Archbishop Bathersby, Bishop Robinson and Cardinal Pell, the Pope and ... - everything in the Church would be fixed, and the Church would 'be more the Church that Jesus would want it to be'.

Now no traditionalist can argue, without being utterly hypocritical, that there is no room, so long as it occurs with an attitude of docility, and within appropriate limits, for discussion of magisterial teaching! But in the end the Church IS hierarchical. There do have to be rules. And when the bishops speak out, as they so rarely do, we should listen. Hard.

What is to be done?

I don't see much point in protests at the seminar itself unless huge numbers could be drummed up. But I do think this stuff is an ongoing festering sore that may well gain even more momentum and so needs to be countered. This is one of those kind of areas that, as Fr Brennan so kindly points out, haven't been managed very well PR-wise by the Church.

Certainly I for one don't feel comfortable that everything that can be done to prevent future abuse scandals from occurring has been done (or to manage the effects of past problems effectively), and I doubt that I am alone in this.

So (and I speak from experience in other spheres of action) if I was planning a strategy on this (and had some dough to spend!) I'd be thinking about doing things like sponsoring a seminar on the Church Fathers on the virtues of celibacy and virginity, or perhaps organising a rolling series of workshops around the country for priests run by someone good and photogenic (Fr Groeschel?) on cultivating asceticism and a vigorous prayer life. Counter-cultural things, in other words, that aim at building fervour and getting out positive messages in related subject areas. I'd be looking at putting together some comprehensive material (and media briefing) on what has been done to date, and what has been achieved, and what still needs to be done. I'd also be thinking about what positive new initiatives or policies could be put in place.

I also have to admit that I actually do have some sympathy with Fr Brennan's argument that a detailed list of errors in the book, rather than just a general statement, would be desirable (I'd happily take a commission to prepare such a list as a starting point for the bishops to draw on and take to the CDF!). The author is, after all, a bishop, and he is talking about topics (such as the abuse scandals) that have a deep resonance with the laity, and so there are some who are going to lock onto almost any solutions that seem superficially attractive. And there is quite a lot to be said for old-fashioned clarity when it comes to erroneous teaching!

At the local level what can we do?

Now in theory I guess, a lay association of the faithful could be formed to do at least some of the things I've talked about above - there are associations after all of those advocating dissent, so why not for those advocating faithfulness to Church disciplines and teaching!

But in the short term, maybe there are some smaller things that can be done. I've been intrigued, for example, by Mulier Fortis' plans for a chrism mass demo thanking priests for their service, and handing out thank you cards to them - probably too late to organise something like that here for this year, but maybe not....do go over and read her posts on this subject!

And of course there is always the power of prayer....

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Blogging break

I'll be offline this week folks, please keep me in your prayers, back soon....!

Events and news

A few points of interest:

  • Happy birthday to Fr Gresser FSSP of Lewisham, who is celebrating the big 40 today!
  • The Latin Mass Melbourne website has been updated, including some nice links on learning Latin and an indicative music program (good to see all of the Creeds getting a workout, not Credo I!), do go take a look.

Please let me know your Holy Week programme!

And of course Easter is coming up! At Christmas time I put up times for Masses and other services in a sidebar aimed particularly at those who might be visiting from interstate - it seemed to get a lot of hits, so I thought I'd do the same thing again for Easter. Please, either put any details in a comment to this post, or email me at australiaincognita@gmail.com.

Times, I suspect, are the main information people will be looking for, but do also let us know if you are singing tenebrae, having solemn masses, and if you are planning on some nice polyphony etc - this is a chance to advertise!

Upcoming events

A few reminders:

Laetare Sunday

Not all of us will be enjoying a beautiful solemn mass with splendid rose vestments as Fr Finigan's congregation will, a case of something good coming out of evil...

But hopefully we will all get to see those twice yearly treasured rose vestments come out of the closet as a signal that we are past the halfway mark of Lent, and can relax a little, before bracing ourselves for the last few weeks!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Feast of St Benedict

Today is the Feast of St Benedict. Given that our current Pope has adopted him as the patron saint of his pontificate, an appropriate day indeed to pray for him as he continues his travels in Africa.

Pope Benedict XVI has had quite a lot to say about St Benedict and his continuing relevance to us today, but I thought for a change today I'd put up some extracts from an oldie but goody, the Encyclical Fulgens Radiatur, issued by His Holiness Pope Pius XII Encyclical on St. Benedict March 21, 1947.

Fulgens Radiator

"Like a star in the darkness of night, Benedict of Nursia brilliantly shines, a glory not only to Italy but of the whole Church. Whoever considers his celebrated life and studies in the light of the truth of history, the gloomy and stormy times in which he lived, will without doubt realize the truth of the divine promise which Christ made to the Apostles and to the society He founded "I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world."

At no time in history does this promise lose its force; it is verified in the course of all ages flowing, as they do, under the guidance of divine Providence. But when enemies assail the Christian name more fiercely, when the fateful barque of Peter is tossed about more violently and when everything seems to be tottering with no hope of human support, it is then that Christ is present, bondsman, comforter, source of supernatural power, and raises up fresh champions to protect Catholicism, to restore it to its former vigor, and give it even greater increase under the inspiration and help of heavenly grace.

2. Among these champions shines out in resplendent light Our Benedict--blessed "by name and grace". In the providential designs of God he emerged from a dark century when the position and fate of civilization as well as of the Church and of civil society was in danger of collapse. The Roman Empire which had attained such a summit of glory and had joined with wise and equally tempered laws so many peoples, nations and tribes, so that it could be called more correctly the world's protector rather than its imperial master, this Empire like all earthly institutions had crumbled. Weakened and corrupt from within, it lay in mighty ruins in the West, shattered by the invasions of the northern tribes.

3. In such a mighty storm and universal upheaval, from where did hope shine? Where did help and protection arise in order to save humanity and what was left of its treasures from shipwreck? It came from the Catholic Church. All earthly institutions begun and built solely on human wisdom and human power, in the course of time succeed one another, flourish and then quite naturally fail, weaken and crumble away; but the organization which Our Redeemer established has received from its divine Founder unfailing life and abiding strength from on high. Thus sustained and fortified the Church comes out victorious through the hostile fortunes of time and circumstances; amid their ruins and failures it is capable of molding a new and happier age and with Christian doctrine and spirit she can build and erect a new society of citizens, peoples and nations.

4. We are happy, Venerable Brethren, to treat briefly in this Encyclical Letter the part played by Benedict in this renewal and restoration; for this year, it would seem fourteen centuries have elapsed since he happily exchanged this earthly exile for his heavenly country after innumerable labors for God's glory and man's salvation.

5. "Born in the province of Nursia of honorable parentage he was filled with the spirit of all justice" and in a remarkable way he supported Christianity by his holiness, prudence and wisdom. While the century had grown old in vice, while Italy and all Europe seemed to be a wretched theater for the life and death struggle of nations, and even the monastic discipline was weakened with worldliness and was not up to the task of resisting and overcoming the allurements of corruption, Benedict proved the perennial youth of the Church by his outstanding sanctity and work; he restored morality by his teaching and example; he protected the sanctuary of religious life with safer and holier laws. Nor was that all; he and his followers reclaimed the uncultured tribes from their wild life to civic and Christian culture; directing them to the practice of virtue, industry and the peaceful arts and literature, he united them in the bonds of fraternal affection and charity.

6. In the first flower of youth he was sent to Rome to study the liberal sciences; there with great grief he noticed heresies and all manner of errors prevalent and many minds deceived and corrupted; private and public morality were crumbling and very many, especially the fine elegant youth, were sadly sunk in the mire of pleasure. The result was that it could be said of Roman society "it is dying and it laughs. In nearly every part of the world tears follow on our laughter". However, under God's influence, "he gave himself to no disport or pleasure . . . but when he saw many through the uneven paths of vice run headlong to their own ruin, he drew back his foot but new-set in the world. . . Contemning therefore learning and studies, and abandoning his father's house and goods, he desired only to please God in a virtuous life". He willingly bid farewell to the comforts of life and the charms of a corrupt age, as well as to the enticing and honorable offices of a promising future to which he could have aspired; leaving Rome behind, he sought out wild and solitary places where he could devote himself to the contemplation of the divine. Thus he came to Subiaco and there retiring into a narrow cave he began to live a life that was more heavenly than human.

7. Hidden with Christ in God, he there strove for three years with great fruit to acquire the perfection and holiness of the Gospels to which he seemed to be called by divine instinct. He made the practice of shunning all earthly things to seek alone and ardently heavenly things; of holding converse with God day and night; of praying incessantly for his own salvation and for the salvation of men; in curbing and mastering the body by voluntary punishment, and checking and controlling the evil motions of the senses. In this way of life he found such sweetness of soul that all the former delights he had experienced from his wealth and ease now appeared distasteful to him and in a way forgotten. One day the enemy of human nature aroused in him very strong allurements of the flesh; at once he strenuously resisted--noble and strong soul that he was, and casting himself into a thicket of briars and sharp nettles by voluntary wounds he conquered and quenched the interior fire. Victorious over himself he seemed to have been strengthened from on high as a reward. "After which time, as he himself related to his disciples, he was so free from the like temptation that he never felt any such motion. . . Being now altogether free from vicious temptation he worthily deserved to be a master of virtue".

8. Our saint, then, living for a long time this secluded and solitary life in the cave of Subiaco, shaped and set himself in sanctity, and laid those solid foundations of Christian perfection on which he was given later to raise a mighty building of lofty heights. As you well know, Venerable Brethren, zealous and apostolic works become useless and vain unless they proceed from a soul enriched with those Christian qualities which alone with God's grace can make human undertakings contribute to the glory of God and the salvation of souls. This Benedict knew well and had found to be true. Before undertaking and executing those great designs and plans to which he was called by God, he first devoted his most earnest efforts and fervent prayers to make himself fully master of that integral, evangelical holiness which he desired the others to acquire.

9. When the reputation of his sanctity spread and daily increased everywhere, not only the monks who lived close by desired to come under his rule, but a multitude of townsfolk began to flock to him in groups desiring to hear his soothing voice, to admire his extraordinary virtue and to see the wondrous signs that God often worked through him. Indeed that bright light that shone from the dark cave of Subiaco spread so far and wide that it even reached remote regions. Thus "nobles and devout persons of the city of Rome began to resort to him and commended their children to be brought up by him in the service of Almighty God".

10. Then it was that this holy man saw that the time, ordained by God's providence, had come for him to found a family of religious men and to mold them to the perfection of the Gospels. He began under most favorable auspices. "For in those parts he had gathered together a great many in the service of God, so that by the assistance of Our Lord Jesus Christ he built there 12 monasteries, in each of which he put 12 monks with their Superiors, and retained a few with himself whom he thought to instruct further".

11. But while things started very favorably, as We said, and yielded rich and salutary results, promising still greater in the future, Our saint with the greatest grief of soul, saw a storm breaking over the growing harvest, which an envious spirit had provoked and desires of earthly gain had stirred up. Since Benedict was prompted by divine and not human counsel, and feared lest the envy which had been aroused mainly against himself should wrongfully recoil on his followers, "he let envy take its course, and after he had disposed of the oratories and other buildings--leaving in them a competent number of brethren with superiors--he took with him a few monks and went to another place".[13] Trusting in God and relying on His ever present help, he went south and arrived at a fort "called Cassino situated on the side of a high mountain . . .; on this stood an old temple where Apollo was worshipped by the foolish country people, according to the custom of the ancient heathens. Around it likewise grew groves, in which even till that time the mad multitude of infidels used to offer their idolatrous sacrifices. The man of God coming to that place broke the idol, overthrew the altar, burned the groves, and of the temple of Apollo made a chapel of St. Martin. Where the profane altar had stood he built a chapel of St. John; and by continual preaching he converted many of the people thereabout".

12. Cassino, as all know, was the chief dwelling place and the main theater of the Holy Patriarch's virtue and sanctity. From the summit of this mountain, while practically on all sides ignorance and the darkness of vice kept trying to overshadow and envelop everything, a new light shone, kindled by the teaching and civilization of old and further enriched by the precepts of Christianity; it illumined the wandering peoples and nations, recalled them to truth and directed them along the right path. Thus indeed it may be rightly asserted that the holy monastery built there was a haven and shelter of highest learning and of all the virtues, and in those very troubled times was, "as it were, a pillar of the Church and a bulwark of the faith".

13. It was here that Benedict brought the monastic life to that degree of perfection to which he had long aspired by prayer, meditation and practice. The special and chief task that seemed to have been given to him in the designs of God's providence was not so much to impose on the West the manner of life of the monks of the East, as to adapt that life and accommodate it to the genius, needs and conditions of Italy and the rest of Europe. Thus to the placid asceticism which flowered so well in the monasteries of the East, he added laborious and tireless activity which allows the monks "to give to others the fruit of contemplation", and not only to produce crops from uncultivated land, but also to cultivate spiritual fruit through their exhausting apostolate. The community life of a Benedictine house tempered and softened the severities of the solitary life, not suitable for all and even dangerous at times for some; through prayer, work and application to sacred and profane sciences, a blessed peace knows not idleness nor sloth; activity and work, far from wearying the mind, distracting it and applying it to useless things, rather tranquilize it, strengthen it and lift it up to higher things. Indeed, an excessive rigor of discipline or severity of penance is not imposed, but before all else love of God and a fraternal charity that is universal and sincere. "He so tempered the rule that the strong would desire to do more and the weak not be frightened by its severity; he tried to govern his disciples by love rather than dominate them by fear".[17] When one day he saw an anchorite, who had bound himself with chains and confined himself in a narrow cave, so that he could not return to his sins and to his worldly life, with gentle words Benedict admonished him: "If you are a servant of God, let not the chains of iron bind you but the chains of Christ".[18]

14. Thus the special norms of eremitic life and their particular precepts, which were generally not very certain or fixed and often depended on the wish of the superior, gave way to Benedictine monastic law, outstanding monument of Roman and Christian prudence. In it the rights, duties and works of the monks are tempered by the benevolence and charity of the Gospel. It has proved and still proves a powerful means to encourage many to virtue and lead them to sanctity. For in the Benedictine law the highest prudence and simplicity are united; Christian humility is joined to virile virtue; mildness tempers severity; and a healthy freedom ennobles due submission. In it correction is given with firmness, but clemency and benignity hold sway; the ordinances are observed but obedience brings rest to mind and peace to soul; gravity is honored by silence but easy grace adds ornament to conversation; the power of authority is wielded but weakness is not without its support.[19]

15. It is no wonder then that "the rule which Benedict, the man of God, wrote for the monks was outstanding for wisdom and elegant in language"; and today receives the highest praise from all.....

Thus animated and burning with a perfect love of God and the neighbor he fulfilled and perfected his task; and when rejoicing and full of merits he felt in advance the breath of heaven, promise of eternal bliss; and foretasted its sweetness, "six days before his death he caused his grave to be opened. Soon seized by a fever, he began to be consumed by burning fire; day by day his strength began to wax faint, and the infirmity daily increasing the sixth day, he caused his disciples to carry him into the Oratory, where he armed himself for his going forth by receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord: then supporting his weak limbs by the hands of his disciples he stood up, his hands lifted toward heaven, and with words of prayer at last breathed forth his soul."

21. After his pious death, when the holy Patriarch went to heaven, the Order of monks he founded was far from failing or collapsing; rather, it seemed not only to be over nourished and strengthened by his living example, but also to be supported and vivified by his heavenly patronage, so that it went on increasing year by year....

25. Furthermore, all the classes of society, if they studiously and seriously examine the life, teaching and glorious achievements of St. Benedict, cannot but fall under the influence of his gentle but powerful inspiration; indeed they will spontaneously recognize that even our age troubled and anxious for the vast material and moral ruins, perils and losses that have been heaped up, can borrow from him the needed remedies...."

If you would like to read the full thing, go here.

Benedictine Ordo for week of March 21

Saturday, March 21: St Benedict , Class I

MD [102]

At Vespers, commemoration of Sunday (add the Sunday collect, MD 223*)

Sunday, March 22, Fourth (Laetare) Sunday of Lent, Class I

MD 223*ff

Monday, March 23: Class III

MD 227*

Tuesday, March 24: Class III

MD 228*

First Vespers of the Annunciation, MD [100] add the collect the feria, 229*

Wednesday, March 25: Annunciation of the BVM, Class I

MD [102], at Lauds and vespers, add collect of the feria, MD 229*

Thursday, March 26: Class III

MD 230*

Friday, March 27: St John Damascene, commemoration

MD 230*; at Lauds MD [106] for the commemoration (antiphon and collect)

Saturday, March 28 : Class III


First Vespers of Passion Sunday/Start of Passiontide

Friday, 20 March 2009

Cardinal Pell in the Catholic Herald

Thanks to New Liturgical Movement for the alert on this one...An interesting interview with the Cardinal on Liberals, the excommunications, reform of the reform, and more in the (UK) Catholic Herald. Here are a few tasters.

On matters liturgical, he talks about the new translations coming soon, and lends his support to ad orientem celebration.

On liberalism:

"...I prefer though to direct my strongest barbs at what I call "ultra-liberalism" or "extreme liberalism"....

Ecclesiologically you might not be very fond at all of the role of the pope or even of the bishops. You might not feel there's much role for a ministerial priesthood. And then, in the area of sexual morality, as John Paul II said at the time of his great moral encyclical, The Splendour of Truth, once upon a time people argued about the rights and wrongs of artificial contraception. Whereas now the whole moral debate about sexuality runs right across the board: life issues, abortion, lifestyle issues of homosexuality, extra-marital affairs. The challenge in sexual morality is very, very broad indeed now."

On the SSPX

"...I think it's certainly a worthy goal to try to reconcile that wing of the Church. But as I've said, and the Vatican has said, if they are to come back they have to accept basically the teaching of Vatican II, especially the teaching that the state can't coerce belief, even if it happens to be a Catholic state (not that that exists anymore).

And they have to accept the condemnation of anti-Semitism.

Interviewer: So you do believe that Vatican II contains certain teachings that all Catholics must sign up to?

Cardinal Pell: Yes. Basically we have to accept the Creeds and there's a hierarchy of truths. But I think it'd be quite incongruous wanting to be formally reconciled with the Church if you explicitly disavow key elements of Vatican II.

Interviewer: As opposed to merely thinking that some of them need more explanation.

Cardinal Pell: Or more development, yes. I mean, you either agree or disagree with the condemnation of anti-Semitism...."

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Bishop Jarrett on the Pope's letter

Thanks to Fr Finigan catching this one - guess I should do another sweep of the diocesan websites* (UPDATE: Done and not a sausage. The only mention of the Pope's letter I could find was in some - admittedly quite good - articles in WA's The Record)!

Good therefore to find at least one excellent individual response from a bishop...
Bishop Jarrett's letter to the priests and deacons of his diocese

Dear Fathers and Deacons,

Three days ago Pope Benedict wrote a Letter to your bishop and to all the bishops of the Catholic world following the reactions of great controversy consequent upon his remission of the excommunication of the four bishops consecrated in 1988 by the late Archbishop Lefebvre.

I wish personally to pass a copy of this Letter on to you for your reflection upon it, because I believe that it touches upon matters of great moment in the present life of the Church that affect us all.

The controversies and disharmony within the Church in these past forty years have not been kind to many of us, ordained to priestly service as great change and confusion engulfed our western societies and consequently affected the Church. We have all been part of the Church’s struggle on the one hand to be faithful to her Lord and the great tradition of the faith, and on the other to embrace the new orientations set out in the sixteen principal magisterial documents of the Second Vatican Council, entirely consistent and in continuity with that tradition.

In his Letter the Holy Father writes very personally, clearly been taken aback by the vehemence of his critics, especially those from within the household of faith. What had he done? In a gesture of healing he had reached out to a stigmatized but not insignificant minority of Catholics whom many in the Church would be pleased to keep beyond the pale, and that bitterness has now been poured over him. So he wrote with a humble explanation of his action and awareness that his knowledge of some aspects was imperfect, with the instinct of a true pastor concerned for the peace and unity of the flock of Christ.

I believe that this moment has brought to the fore as no other in recent times a critical question: that of the understanding and interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. Was it to be seen as a rupture with all that went before, so that nothing in the Church’s life and teaching was to be exempt from change, indeed a process of continual mutation to fit in with the perceived demands and approvals of contemporary thinking and behaviour? Or is the Council and the subsequent life of the Church to be understood in unbroken continuity with the Church of all ages, passing also through our particular ‘modern’ stage of her long journey through time towards her Lord, united as ever in one faith, one hope and one love, always one in her doctrine, her worship and her sacramental life? It is this question which the Holy Father, with all the affirmation of faith, seems to me to be helping us to understand.

As you read this significant ‘encyclical’ Letter to the bishops, I ask you and those in your pastoral charge to join with me in praying especially for the Holy Father at this time, more than simply as we are all in duty bound, with a real spiritual solidarity and gratitude: for his Apostolic leadership, his pastoral charity and fidelity to the truth, and the deep wisdom and humility with which he speaks and acts for the good of all the Church.

Yours devotedly in Christ our Lord,
Most Revd Geoffrey Jarrett,
Bishop of Lismore

Brazil again - the parish priest replies

Rorate Caeli has posted a response from the diocese to Archbishop Fisichella's article on the Brazilian case, and it gives some helpful background. Disappointingly, this story continues to receive minimal coverage on the major catholic blogs. I therefore reproduce it in full:


Regarding the article entitled "Dalla parte della bambina brasiliana” [by Archbishop "Rino" Fisichella] and published in L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO on March 15, we the undersigned declare:

1. The fact [the rape of the little girl] did not happen in Recife, as the article states, but in the city of Alagoinha (Diocese of Pesqueira).

2. All of us - beginning with the parish priest of Alagoinha (undersigned) - treated the pregnant girl and her family with all charity and tenderness. The Parish priest, making use of his pastoral solicitude, when aware of the news in his residence, immediately went to the house of the family, in which he met the girl and lent her his support and presence, before the grave and difficult situation in which the girl found herself. And this attitude continued every day, from Alagoinha to Recife, where the sad event of the abortion of the two innocent [babies] took place.

Therefore, it is quite evident and unequivocal that nobody thought in "excommunication" in the first place. We used all means at our disposal to avoid the abortion and thus save all THREE lives. The Parish priest personally joined the local Children's Council in all efforts which sought the welfare of the child and of her two children. In the hospital, in daily visits, he displayed attitudes of care and attention which made clear both to the child and to her mother that they were not alone, but that the Church, represented by the local Parish priest, assured them of the necessary assistance and of the certainty that all would be done for the welfare of the girl and to save her two children.

3. After the girl was transferred to a hospital of the city of Recife, we tried to use all legal means to avoid the abortion. The Church never displayed any omission in the hospital. The girl's parish priest made daily visits to the hospital, traveling from the city which is 230 km [140 mi] away from Recife, making every effort so that both the child and the mother felt the presence of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who seeks the sheep who need most attention. Therefore, the case was treated with all due care by the Church, and not sbrigativamente' [summarily], as the article says.

4. We do not agree [with Archbishop Fisichella] that the "decision is hard... for the moral law itself". Our Holy Church continues to proclaim that the moral law is exceedingly clear: it is never licit to eliminate the life of an innocent person to save another life. The objective facts are these: there are doctors who explicitly declare that they perform and will continue to perform abortions, while others declare with the same firmness that they will never perform abortions. Here is the declaration written and signed by a Brazilian Catholic physician: "...As an obstetrician for 50 years, graduated in the National Medical School of the University of Brazil, and former chief of Obstetrics in the Hospital of Andarai [Rio de Janeiro], in which I served for 35 years until I retired in order to dedicate myself to the Diaconate, and having delivered 4,524 babies, many from juvenile [mothers], I never had to resort to an abortion to 'save lives', as well as all my colleagues, sincere and honest in their profession and faithful to their Hippocratic oath. ..."

5. The affirmation [in the article] that the fact was made public in the newspapers only because the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife rushed to declare the excommunication is false. It suffices to notice that the case was made public in Alagoinha on Wednesday, February 25; the Archbishop made his pronouncement to the press on March 3; and the abortion was performed on March 4. It would be too much to imagine that the Brazilian press, before a fact of such gravity, would have silenced during the period of six days. Therefore, the news of the pregnant girl ("Carmen") was made public in the newspapers before the consummation of the abortion. Only after that, when asked by journalists, on March 3 (Tuesday), the Archbishop mentioned canon 1398. We are convinced that the disclosure of this therapeutic penalty (the excommunication) will do much good to many Catholics, making them avoid this grievous sin. The silence of the Church would be very prejudicial, especially considering that fifty million abortions are being performed every year around the world, and in Brazil alone one million innocent lives are ended. The silence may be interpreted as collusion or complicity. If any doctor has a "perplexed conscience" [as the article says] before performing an abortion (which seems extremely improbable to us), he should - if he is a Catholic and wishes to follow the law of God - seek a spiritual director.

6. The article is, in other words, a direct attack of the defense of the lives of the three children vehemently made by Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho and leaves evident how much the author does not have the necessary data or information to speak on the matter, due to his utter ignorance of the facts. The text may be interpreted as an apologia of abortion, violating the Magisterium of the Church. The abortionist doctors were not in the moral crossroads mentioned by the text; on the contrary, they performed the abortion with full knowledge and coherence with what they believe and teach. The hospital in which the abortion on the little girl was performed is one of those that always perform this procedure in our state, under the cover of "legality". The doctors who acted as executioners of the twins declared, and still declare in the national media, that they did what they are used to doing "with great pride". One of them declared even that: "Then, I have been excommunicated many times".

7. The author believed he could speak about [a situation] he did not know, and, what is worse, he did not even have the trouble of first speaking to his brother in the episcopate, and, for his imprudent attitude, he is causing great scandal among the Catholic faithful in Brazil who are believing that Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho was rash in his pronouncements. Instead of seeking his brother in the episcopate, he chose to believe in our openly Anti-clerical press.

Recife-PE, March 16, 2009

Fr. Cícero Ferreira de Paula
Chancellor - Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife

Mons. Edvaldo Bezerra da Silva
Vicar General - Archdiocese of Olinda e Recife

Fr Moisés Ferreira de Lima
Rector of the Archdiocesan Seminary

Dr. Márcio Miranda
Attorney for the Archdiocese of Olinda e Recife

Fr. Edson Rodrigues
Parish priest of Alagoinha-PE - Diocese of Pesqueira

Feast of St Joseph

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Please don't be (completely) anonymous!

Folks, I've received a couple of comments that have no identifying name. Accordingly, I've had to reject them.

Please read the right hand sidebar! Folks, I don't ask much, just a clear moniker of your choice, a modicum of politeness, and a focus on issues not people.

Would those who have recently submitted anonymous comments please either resubmit them or contact me so I can add a suitable identifier.

The Pope in Africa

Got just love that hat! Photo via American Papist.

The Pope landed in Cameroon last night Australian time, and is due today to make a courtesy visit to the President, hold meetings with bishops, and celebrate Vespers.

On the plane over he reiterated the Church's teaching that condoms are no solution to the problem of AIDS....

The Philippines: a two child policy coming?

By AnotherLouise and Terra

When the Pope talked, in his letter last week, about ‘vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel’, most people thought he was talking above all about Europe.

But in fact, that threat is everywhere, even in former bastions of the faith like the Philippines, the world’s twelfth most populous country, where a group is attempting to introduce a ‘Reproductive Health Bill’ aimed at limiting population growth through the promotion of contraception and compulsory family planning education. The Bill is due to be voted on next month.

The Catholic Philippines?

On the face of it, the Philippines is one of the last places you would expect to see a draconian China style two-child policy being pushed. Eighty one percent of the Philippines population of over 96 million identify themselves as Catholics after all, and its Constitution actually formally protects the unborn from conception in its constitution, and specifically bans abortion.

Yet that is exactly what is happening.

The Reproductive Health Bill

The main aim of the bill is to reduce population growth through government funding of contraceptives – particularly for the poor – and to introduce mandatory “Reproductive Health Education” starting in grade 5. Under the Bill, contraceptives would be treated as ‘essential medicines’, provided at taxpayer expense. Tied in with this is improved pre- and post- pregnancy support, such as trained midwives in remote districts who would also distribute contraceptives. The basic premise of the bill seems to be that "family planning" and abortion somehow equate to reproductive "health".

The main justification for the Bill is claimed to be the need to reduce population growth – but in fact fertility rates in the Philippines have been falling steadily in recent years, and the population growth rate currently stands at a modest 2%.

The Philippines does have a huge problem with maternal/infant mortality, with over 100 women dying each day from birth related complications. So there is a real need for increased pre- and post- natal maternal health funding. However, instead of just concentrating on increasing funding for maternal, prenatal and ante-natal services, the instigators of this bill want to provide government funding for contraceptives and have an all out "education" campaign on "family planning" which would promote an ideal of 2 children per family.

The bill includes some pretty dangerous - and outrageous – provisions, such as ‘offering’ tubal ligations to indigent women who have children in public hospital, compulsory family planning education before marriage, and anti-conscientious objection clauses directed at medical personnel and employers, who will have to provide ‘reproductive health ‘education’’ and ‘devices’.

The State of Play

The Catholic Church in the Philippines is fighting hard, but making little headway – representatives of the Bishops’ Conference walked out of Senate committee hearings on the Bill last month because their views were being disregarded.

The two main protestant churches, Muslim groups – and ‘pro-choice catholics’ led by a a group of Jesuit university professors – are supporting the bill, and numbers are reportedly tight.

If passed, the Bill would have to approved by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is a staunch Catholic and has in the past taken a very strong stand on pro-life issues. There are elections coming up next year however…

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Australian bishops in support of the Pope....

Woo hoo!, for once some good news in the form of a very welcome media release from the Australian bishop's conference (perhaps someone has been reading my blog!):

"The President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Philip Wilson, today called on all Catholics to offer special prayers for Pope Benedict XVI and for Church unity, as part of their Lenten observances this year.

Archbishop Wilson said that Pope Benedict’s recent letter to bishops regarding the Society of St Pius X was a deeply personal and moving account of the pontiff’s deep desire to take all possible steps to work towards Church unity. [a nice stress on the essential purpose of the letter]

The Pope’s letter referred to the recent heated discussion which erupted both within and outside the Church, in the wake of Pope Benedict’s decision to lift the excommunication of four bishops who were illicitly consecrated in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre.

In his letter, the Holy Father spoke of his regret that the gesture of reconciliation had been overshadowed by revelations about the unacceptable position of Bishop Richard Williamson with regard to the Jewish Holocaust. He accepted that more rigorous Internet checking would have alerted the Holy See to Bishop Williamson’s views.

“The Holy Father’s letter was a uniquely personal plea for understanding,” Archbishop Wilson said. “It contains both humble acknowledgement of mistakes made, as well as a deeply human insight into the suffering felt by subsequent attacks on him.”

Archbishop Wilson said the letter was a stirring call to Church unity from the Successor of Peter, in which the Pope argues that even small gestures of reconciliation can be fruitful in shifting people from their entrenched positions and changing their hearts so that they begin to move back towards life within the Church.

“During this Lenten season of purification of heart and of turning back to God, I ask all Catholics to offer special prayers for the Holy Father, so that in this way we can support him in his enormously challenging ministry,” Archbishop Wilson said. [And a great call to action.]

I ask also for prayers for Church unity, that we too, can offer the hand of reconciliation to all our brothers and sisters, who might for one reason or another find themselves outside the Church’s loving embrace, but who have a genuine longing for Christ in their lives. It is in this way that hearts and minds can be changed.”

Archbishop Wilson said he had written to Pope Benedict on behalf of the Australian Bishops, assuring him of prayerful solidarity and support, and thanking him for his letter which he was sure would achieve the Pope’s stated desire of contributing “to peace in the Church.”

Please pray also for our bishops as they lead us, strengthened by Peter.

'Pope resignation a shock'

It is ok, just a lighter note for a moment.

I was on The Australian website, and looking through the top stories listing for the Courier Mail when I froze. This is what I saw:

1. Christ's face 'appears in cushion'
2. Hansen's boyfriend says its her
3. Pope resignation a shock (since shortened to Pope resignation!)

I nearly had a heart attack!

But in fact story number 3 was about the sudden resignation of a Mr Cameron Pope, president of the Queensland Police Union....

Please, Queensland, you give enough trouble as it is, don't do this to us!

And as for the cushion...

Pray for many more years of the real Pope's reign!

On the need for (faithful) priests...

VIS news reports that the Pope has announced a special Year for Priests, in the course of which St John Vianney (pictured left) will be proclaimed patron saint of all priests.

Pope Benedict XVI had some great things to say, and I'll put up the full text once it becomes available, but I just wanted to highlight this particular paragraph from the report, because it is so pertinent to the efforts of several Australian dioceses:

"The centrality of Christ leads to a correct valuation of priestly ministry, without which there would be no Eucharist, no mission, not even the Church. It is necessary then, to ensure that 'new structures' or pastoral organisations are not planned for a time in which it will be possible to 'do without' ordained ministry, on the basis of an erroneous interpretation of the promotion of the laity, because this would lay the foundations for a further dilution in priestly ministry, and any supposed 'solutions' would, in fact, dramatically coincide with the real causes of the problems currently affecting the ministry".

Brisbane again...

And on congregationalism at play, St John Vianney seems a very appropriate saint to pray for in relation to the ongoing drama in Brisbane, where CathNews reports that mediation proceedings have broken down, and they are now headed for court.

You might also want to petition the saint for his intercession on the situation in Linz, where the priest who led the charge against Mgr Wagner admitted to living in open violation of clerical celibacy and has now been removed from his position as Dean - but not from his parish. Cathcon has the latest in this saga.

St Patrick's Day

Now this will be heresy to many, but I have to admit I'm not big on St Patrick's Day - the saint's story itself (captured by pirates at age 16 and forced to work as a slave for several years before finally escaping home to Wales, only to return to Ireland as a missionary) is pretty inspirational, but I'm rather less enamoured of the legacy of Irish culture goes with today's celebrations.
Still, it is part of our history and identity and so should be treasured, so enjoy the feast day!

Monday, 16 March 2009

Learning the PR lessons...a way to go yet?

Meanwhile back at the Vatican, it seems that there is still some way to go on learning (1) what genuine 'collegiality' might mean in practice (2) how to manage the media.

Take the case of the dreadful rape of a young girl of nine in Brazil recently.

Let's recap the facts first.

The Lifesite reports them as follows.

The step-father of a child abused her and she became pregnant with twins. The mother wanted her to have an abortion. In most countries in these circumstances, the child would have been placed under the protection of the State until the situation had been fully investigated, and someone neutral appointed to be her guardian, but for whatever reasons this didn't occur.

The Church urgently counselled against precipitate action, and was preparing to go to court to protect the interests of all of the children involved. The hospital the girl was admitted to, after a proper medical assessment, refused to carry out an abortion at that point. Before the Church could act, the mother approached another hospital who agreed to proceed with an abortion, and once it was done, the second hospital declared after the fact that her life had been in danger.

All of those involved (save for the child) were presumed to be automatically excommunicated in accordance with canon law, and the local bishop 'declared' the fact in view of the circumstances. The doctors concerned stated that they would ignore the excommunication and go to church as normal (and presumably receive)...


Clearly this was a tough situation, but the person on the ground with knowledge and authority to act in the situation was the local ordinary, Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho. So you would expect his brother bishops and the Vatican to back him up unless the decision was clearly and outrageously incorrect, right?

Well, on the plus side, Cardinal Re of the Congregation for bishops did come out in support a few days after the decision was announced.

That didn't stop a few French bishops publicly coming out against the decision. Then last week the Brazilian bishops conference came out and said the mother shouldn't have been excommunicated because she was under pressure from the doctors involved in the case, and that the case against the doctors was weak because only doctors who 'systematically' conduct abortions are excommunicated. Really? Not an obvious reading of the relevant provisions of canon law.

And now Cathnews reports that Archbishop Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, has an article in L'Osservatore Romano arguing that "mercy" should be applied in the case of Brazilian doctors who carried out the abortion and criticising Archbishop Sobrinho for declaring them.

Media messages

Talk about mixed messages!

I don't read Italian well enough to know if the article is being spun unduly in the media (including Cathnews). In a way it doesn't matter - pretty much any concessions on the case are bound to be interpreted as a backdown.

Yes the issues are complex, and yes the reality is that in any case of excommunication the pressures on people and other circumstances are taken into account, and maybe that is all the article was trying to say. The problem is that the doctors involved in the case have been publicly defiant of their Ordinary, claiming they will ignore the excommunication. And now it all sounds like the Church backing away from its strong pro-life stance, and even worse, not backing up its bishops when they make the tough calls.

This should have been an opportunity to put out some strong messages:
  • that the Church totally condemns child abuse and rape, and those who carry it out or permit it to occur must face the consequences of their actions both in the courts of the land and before God;
  • that the Church is deeply concerned about the terrible breakdown of modern family life that permits such horrors to occur;
  • but that there are three lives at stake here, not just one;
  • that given that, no precipitate decisions should have been taken, but rather carefully considered ones based on concern for the spiritual and physical health of all of those at risk;
  • that sometimes in the interest of truth, hard calls have to be made.
Instead, we have the spectacle of a Church seemingly unable to insist on moral truths. Bring on the rumoured shake-up of the Curia.

And really, why not just abolish Bishop's Conferences altogether - their primary purposes seem to be to suck up resources into dodgy projects, weaken practice by abolishing holydays and traditional penances, and ferment dissent.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

On being scandalized: 'temple police' or firefighters?

There is another of those emails circulating around the traps, intended I think to soothe fevered brows, this time a conference by the great Fr Faber urging us not to be scandalized easily, and not be pharisees in our attitudes. Now there is something in this, but it is an argument that I think is being much misused these days.

Private religion and practice

One of the most insidious ideas of our secular culture is that religion is a private affair. And it has infected many within the Church in the notion that we shouldn't be concerned about abuses and doctrinal problems 'over there', in other parishes, dioceses or countries. And there is a certain irony in this given the ecclesiology around the 'People of God' and such like concepts most often stressed by those making such claims.

It is a view that is wrong on a purely pragmatic level: the geographical concept of the parish has little relevance today in an area of mobility and travel. There are times when the only available mass or place for confession will be somewhere other than our normal place of worship. Not to mention those unavoidable occasions such as baptisms, confirmations and weddings when we find ourselves in strange parishes. And some of them are very strange, very dangerous places indeed!

But most of all it is wrong on an ecclesial level. We are all part of one Church, one body, and wounds suffered in one part of the body affect the entire body.

Sin and suffering

One of the great myths of our society is the notion that the individual controls his or her destiny. And to the extent that our autonomy is threatened, science will (eventually) be able to rectify the problem.

It is however an illusion, a modern myth! We all inherit the genes - good or bad - that our parents bequeath us, just as we all suffer the effects of original sin. Our 'life chances' are affected by our family, the society we live in. The actions of others - good and bad - have consequences for us individually. And of course there is this person called God who sustains everything in existence, and whose providential plan for each and everyone of us unfolds every minute, every second of our days.

In short, our lives are determined as much by factors outside of ourselves as factors particular to us - because we are not just individuals but part of a broader community living in a world that is moving ever closer to its consummation in the New Jerusalem.

And just as materially, so too spiritually. Our prayers and sufferings can help others, both those alive now, and those in purgatory; but so too our sins can have the opposite effect.

Collective responsibility

That's why, when God threatened the Ninevites with the destruction of their city, he didn't just send Jonah to temple x or y, or to sinner Mr A or B, he sent him to preach to the whole city. And why the whole city, even the animals, did penance in order to avert God's wrath.

It is why all of us have an obligation to be active politically, and do what we can to overturn unjust laws, or prevent further evils.

And why we should all be concerned if a particular parish flouts Church law and encourages, for example, the sinful reception of the eucharist.

The witness of saints

Fr Faber in the conference writes that 'I do not remember to have read of any Saint who ever took scandal'. I hate to disagree with so eminent an authority, but really? I can actually think of quite a few. Let's just name a few of the biggies. St Paul. St Athanasius. St Catherine of Siena. There are many more.

Because there are times when we do have to take a stand.

Indeed, it is times like these that call forth great saints - and St Teresa of Avila tells us that we should all aspire to be amongst them!

Archbishop of Coleridge of Canberra-Goulburn in his Lenten message tells young people to be 'firefighters not arsonists'. It is a nice analogy. And controversial though it may be to some, sometimes a little pre-emptive backburning is required to prevent a major conflagration or two.

Certainly, we could all consider, at this more or less halfway point of Lent, whether we are doing enough by way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to atone for the sins of our society and church community, and renew our commitment to the penances we have undertaken.
And do pray for those who are being attacked as 'temple police', dobbers and so forth in relation to St Mary's, Brisbane and other conflagrations around Australia.