Saturday, 30 April 2011

Pomp and circumstance...

OK I have to admit having watched the thing, I do see why the royals vetoed the Chasers.

The Royal Wedding was an absolutely splendid show that truly illustrated the importance of ritual - and why ditching it was such a disastrous mistake for the Church.  The last thing one would want is to go to all that effort and have its effects subverted out here in the colonies...

Not for Prince William the uniform of the Air Force flight lieutenant that he works at as his current day job; instead he dressed as a Colonel of the Irish Guard (an honorary position his grandmother granted him a month or two back): this is the heir presumptive to the throne, not just another officer. 

Not for this wedding the modern, rather catholic-banal wording of the Anglican ritual, but rather something rather more Sarum Rite in tone (Joshua has a rundown on where it all comes from).

It was all truly splendid.

And now we must pray that there was substance beneath all the glitter, and that the happy couple truly have learnt the lessons from the disasters of Charles and Di's marriage, and take their marriage vows seriously (unlike most of the rest of the royal family).  I'd have to say that their co-habitation prior to the marriage doesn't seem a positive sign however - how very far we have departed from the traditional, and morally appropriate, treatment of such a relationship on the part of a royal or anyone else!

Oh yes, and despite the power of the ritual I'd still prefer a local monarch (or better still a republic with an elected Prez).  Sorry, just don't have that Brit connection.  Bring on King/President for life Lord Nicholas Windsor!

And tomorrow the next bit of contested ritual, with that beatification...

Friday, 29 April 2011

Ordinariate grows and develops...

Over Holy Week the UK Ordinariate expanded by several hundred members, as some 950 laypeople and 64 clergy were received into the Church (the picture above is of the Oxford Group).

And now the next round of diaconal ordinations have started, with two conducted in Cambridge yesterday.

There is also a list of candidates for the priesthood up on the Ordinariate website (and yes, everyone's favourite blogging ex-Anglican Fr Hunwicke is on it; ordinations for Oxford and some others seem to be scheduled for June 12, Pentecost Sunday, at Birmingham Cathedral, but there are a number of different dates and ceremonies for different groups).

So  do keep all those concerned in your prayers.

No indication of any substantive progress on the Australian front however...

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Enjoying the Easter Octave...

c17th Russian
Just a reminder that it is of course still the Easter Octave, that extended Resurrection Sunday!

The royal wedding: bring on the Chasers!

Lord and Lady Nicholas Windsor and children:
a better future King for Australia?
picture from European Life Network

In a fit of political correctness the Palace has banned ABC comedy team The Chasers on the event from providing an alternative commentary in Australia.

Should just about guarantee a resurgence of republican feeling I reckon!

Our royals: a sorry spectacle

I have to admit that I hadn't really been planning to watch the wedding beyond maybe a few minutes of the Chasers (who I actually don't like that much, but still...).

Why, after all, should one be enthusiastic about the wedding of a couple who have been living in sin for several years into a family where the divorce rate is running at something like 80%+ and whose anti-catholic prejudice is blocking the repeal of legislation barring Catholics from marrying anyone in line to the throne?

Damian Thompson's piece, linked to above, reminds us that neither Prince Charles nor Princes William or Harry met the pope during his recent UK visit.

And consider the roll call of our Queen's children:
  • HRH Prince Charles, heir to the throne.  Divorced his first wife; married his long time mistress;
  • HRH Anne, The Princess Royal.  Now on her second marriage.  Her son's Canadian wife renounced her catholic faith so that he would not lose his place in the royal succession;
  • HRH Prince Andrew, divorced from Sarah Ferguson.  Recently in trouble for consorting with a convicted paedophile and accused of links with illegal arms dealing and corruption;
  • HRH Prince Edward - the only one of the Queen's children whose marriage (in 1999) remains intact.

Respect for our ruler

Now one can argue I suppose that as the heir to the throne but one of Australia as well as Britain, Prince William and his family nonetheless deserve our respect despite the continued serious scandals concerning most of them.

And Prince William does get some brownie points in my book for excluding the appalling Blairs from the festivities!

But what constitutes respect is, after all, to a large degree a cultural construct. 

The Australian take on respect is not always the same as British still-lipped solemnity. 

Indeed, taking the mickey is arguably the highest accolade of all, as shows like Keating the Musical and others of that genre have long attested.

So surely the Queen of Australia could be amused just this once...

A modest proposal

But given that the Queen doesn't seem to be prepared to indulge Australian culture, and that the Republican movement is going nowhere, here is my alternative proposal.

Dump the Queen.  Dump the Governor-General. 

Instead, let's recruit one of those nice British royals, such as pro-life advocate Lord Nicholas Windsor, who have been cut out of the line of succession for the crime of converting to catholicism or marrying a catholic, and bring them out to live here to be king or queen of Australia...

Are you being counted?

This weekend is the first of four in May when a census of catholic Mass attendees will be taken.

So if you happen to belong to one of those quasi-parish communities that often seems to get left out when it comes to these kind of things, please do take quick action to make sure you are counted as a practising catholic!  Because it would surely be nice if at least one group (viz EF attendees) was seen to be growing...

National Count of Attendance

The Bishop's conference media release says that:

"The first weekend in May will see the commencement of the 2011 National Count of Attendance, a project which aims to ascertain the practicing population of Australia’s Catholics.

First held in 2001, this will be the third time the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has conducted the count at a national level."

Information collected, in addition to the number of people in attendance, includes the language and frequency of celebration. The count is conducted both for Masses and Sunday Assemblies in the absence of a Priest and consists of a simple headcount of all those who attend Mass at parishes and other Mass centres throughout the whole of Australia over four weekends.”

The National Count of Attendance will be conducted electronically with most parishes submitting their counts online, rather than using paper forms.

Further decline or signs of revival?
The last time the count was conducted, in 2006, it found that an average of 708,618 people attended Mass (or an assembly without a priest) each weekend.

The total attendance figure represented 13.8 per cent of Australia’s 2006 Catholic Population. An average of at least 58,000 people attended Mass celebrated in one of 30 languages other than English.

Any queries regarding the ACBC National Count of Attendance can be directed to the ACBC Pastoral Research Office.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Sunday, 24 April 2011

A joyous Easter to all readers!

Our Lord appears to the Apostles,
Duccio di Buoninsegna, Siena, c1308-1311 

He is risen indeed!

della Francesca, 1463

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Women at the tomb

Fra Angelico, b1387

"And in the end of the sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre.

And behold there was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and coming rolled back the stone and sat upon it. And his countenance was as lightning and his raiment as snow. And for fear of him, the guards were struck with terror and became as dead men.

And the angel answering, said to the women: Fear not you: for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. For he is risen, as he said. Come, and see the place where the Lord was laid. And going quickly, tell his disciples that he is risen. And behold he will go before you into Galilee.
There you shall see him. Lo, I have foretold it to you. And they went out quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy, running to tell his disciples."

Looking for some good (spiritual/theological) reading this weekend?

Forget Cath News' Perspectives, nothing all that inspiring over there!  Xt3 though, is still serving up the goodies, including links to things like the Pope's Good Friday Q&A session.

But another good source (amazingly!) is the ABC's religion and ethics portal, which has some material well worth a look, including:
And a few other gems from elsewhere to add to your store for reflection:
  • two nice articles on the importance of King David as a type of the Messiah, the importance of the psalms in understanding the Passion narratives over at the excellent Sacred Page blog;
  • and of course, as always, keep your eye of the's list of blog posts.

Sleeping guards

Master Francke, c1424
Matthew 27:62-66:

“And the next day, which followed the day of preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees came together to Pilate, saying: Sir, we have remembered, that that seducer said, while he was yet alive: After three days I will rise again. Command therefore the sepulchre to be guarded until the third day: lest perhaps his disciples come and steal him away and say to the people: He is risen from the dead. And the last error shall be worse than the first.

Pilate says to them: You have a guard. Go, guard it as you know. And they departing, made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone and setting guards."

After the angel appears to the women with the news of the Resurrection, Matthew 28:12-15:

"…some of the guards came into the city and told the chief priests all things that had been done. And they being assembled together with the ancients, taking counsel, gave a great sum of money to the soldiers, saying: Say you, His disciples came by night and stole him away when we were asleep. And if the governor shall hear of this, we will persuade him and secure youSo they taking the money, did as they were taught: and this word was spread abroad among the Jews even unto this day.”

He descended into hell...

St Alban's Psalter c1125
 Matthew 27: 52-53:

"And the graves were opened: and many bodies of the saints that had slept arose,  and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, came into the holy city and appeared to many."

Friday, 22 April 2011

He was placed in the tomb...

worthy is the lamb
Ingeborg pslater, c13th

Matthew 27: 57-61:

"And when it was evening, there came a certain rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded that the body should be delivered.

And Joseph taking the body wrapped it up in a clean linen cloth:  And laid it in his own new monument, which he had hewed out in a rock. And he rolled a great stone to the door of the monument and went his way.

And there was there Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre."

Matthew 27:45-50:

"Now from the sixth hour, there was darkness over the whole earth, until the ninth hour.

And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani? That is, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

And some that stood there and heard said: This man calls Elias. And immediately one of them running took a sponge and filled it with vinegar and put it on a reed and gave him to drink.

And the others said: Let be. Let us see whether Elias will come to deliver him.

And Jesus again crying with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost."

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

New auxiliary for Sydney: Fr Peter A Comensoli

And we have another new bishop-elect, Fr Peter A Commensoli, aged 47, of Wollongong Diocese, appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney.

Recently returned from studying in Edinburgh, the bishop-elect holds a Pontifical Bachelor of Theology from the Catholic Institute of Sydney (1986-1991), Pontifical Licentiate in Moral Theology from Academia Alfonsiana, Rome, Italy (1998-2000), and a Master of Letters degree in Moral Theology from St Andrew's University, Edinburgh.

Extraordinary Form ordination coming soon to Sydney...

Just to let those interested know...

A Solemn Pontifical Mass for the ordination of the Reverend Damonn Sypher FSSP to the priesthood will be celebrated by His Eminence, Cardinal George Pell at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney. at 7.00pm, Thursday, 5th May 2011 (followed by a light supper in the Cathedral Hall).

Canberra readers alert: change in Easter Sunday Mass time

**Canberra TLM attendees (or potential attendees!) should note that Mass at Garran on Sunday will be at 10.30am, not the usual 11.30 am.

Times for the Extraordinary Form Easter ceremonies at the Canberra St Michael the Archangel Community are advertised as being:

Thursday 21 April: 7pm Solemn Evening Mass (Garran)
Friday 22 April: 11am Stations of the Cross (Garran); 3pm Solemn Afternoon Liturgy (Garran)
Saturday 23 April: 8pm Vigil and Solemn Mass of Easter (Garran)
Sunday 24 April: 8:30am, low Mass (Campbell); 10:30am, Sung Mass, followed by blessed of Easter fare.

Alternatively, you could head for the Cathedral for the Ordinary Form:

Holy Thursday 7.30pm,
Good Friday Stations of the Cross Yarralumla 11am, ACCC 11am, liturgy cathedral 3pm,
Easter Vigil 7.30pm,
Sunday cathedral 8am, 11am and 5.30pm, Yarralumla 9.30am.

Other Mass times for the Archdiocese can be found here.

Wednesday in Holy Week

Giotto: Judas being paid for his betrayal

RIP Elizabeth Sladen aka Sarah Jane Smith

Dr Who actress Elizabeth Sladen died yesterday from cancer aged, 63. 

She was married and had one daughter.  She met her husband while they were both acting in Liverpool in the mid 1960s, and they married in 1968.

The actress initially played the role of Dr Who's journalist companion in 1973, with Jon Pertwee as the Doctor, but her travels continued under Tom Baker, with guest appearances in the later revivals.  From 2007 she starred in a spin-off series, The Sarah Jane adventures (the fourth season started airing in the UK last October).  

May she rest in peace.

Psalm 142/4: Towards victory!

Verses 13&14
The procession of St Gregory seeking an end to the plague
Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 71v
the Musée Condé, Chantilly

In the last part of this mini-series, I looked at verses 11&12 of Psalm 142, and suggested that the psalmist’s pleas to be delivered from his enemies was to be accomplished in large part by his learning to do God’s will, and guidance by the Holy Spirit. Those verses provide some context for the verses I want to look at today by way of conclusion of this Lent series, namely the last two verses of the psalm – and thus of all of the penitential psalms – which contain a further plea for God’s help.

At first glance, verses 13 and 14 present problems to the modern reader, since they sound awfully like a request for God to do some smiting! And while we might all feel the desire for that to occur from time to time, we know full well that in fact we are called on to forgive our enemies, and to return good for evil. So how should we reconcile these seemingly conflicting messages?

The text

First let’s take another look at the verses themselves. Here is the Vulgate (which is identical to the neo-Vulgate):

Edúces de tribulatióne ánimam meam: * et in misericórdia tua dispérdes inimícos meos.
Et perdes omnes, qui tríbulant ánimam meam, * quóniam ego servus tuus sum.

The key verbs here, as I mentioned in the introduction to this psalm, are all in the subjunctive, making them a pleas or request: educare means to lead out, bring or draw forth; disperdere and perdere both mean to destroy, or destroy utterly.

Hence a literal translation would be something like: ‘may you bring my soul (animam meam) out of distress/trouble (de tribulatione), and in your mercy/kindness/compassion (misericordia) destroy my enemies (inimicos meos); And destroy all (omnes) those who trouble/afflict (qui tribulant) my soul, because (quoniam) I am (ego sum) your servant (servus tuus)’.

Who are our enemies?

We shouldn’t, in my view, back away from the idea of praying for the defeat of actual physical enemies here, whether they be personal, enemies of the Church, or of our country. The harsh reality is that evil can and does get worked through others. We shouldn’t be afraid to pray that someone who is hurting us or others be stopped from doing so!

Of course, our prayer must be, first and foremost, that they be converted.

And we must genuinely seek to forgive them for what they do to us and others.

Forgiving someone though, doesn’t mean letting them continue to sin! Accordingly, it is important to keep in mind that praying for the defeat of evil and those who oppress us by whatever direct or indirect means God chooses to employ, or helps us to employ, is perfectly legitimate.

David's Victory
Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 95r
Musée Condé, Chantilly.
Victory over sin

Nonetheless, in the context of the penitential psalms, our primary focus should be first and foremost on the mote in our own eye! The enemy in this context is not so much others: for we can accept bear their attacks as part of our penance, or offer up our sufferings at their hands for others.

But we must also focus, especially during this Lenten season, on overcoming our own weaknesses, bad habits, faults and sins. And we shouldn't hesitate to ask God's help in this most personal of battles.

The previous psalms, as well as the earlier verses of this psalm teach us the other weapons we must employ: work to develop a strong and deep sense of contrition; go to confession, tell all of our sins, and be absolved; do our penance and more; study, meditate and contemplate God's works; and submit ourselves to God's will and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, in this battle, it is also important to keep in mind that not all of our faults come from within ourselves: we are also engaged in a spiritual warfare waged against powers and principalities; so call too for God's help in the form of our own guardian angel's interventions.

We should pray too, for final perseverance, for above all, these verses reminds us of God’s promise that evil will eventually be defeated and good vindicated, if not in this life, then in the next.

Ne reminiscaris Domine...

I want to conclude this series not with another version of the psalm for you to listen to, but with the antiphon used at the end of the penitential psalms.  Here, it is in an English setting by Purcell.

The first half of the setting is simply a translation of the Catholic liturgical text:

Remember not, Lord, our offences,
nor the offences of our forefathers;
neither take thou vengeance of our sins:

The second part is an addition from the Book of Common Prayer, but it is so catholic in content that I strongly suspect it actually has its quasi-liturgical origins in the Sarum Rite:

spare us, good Lord, spare thy people,
whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood,
and be not angry with us for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

Praying the penitential psalms

I do hope you have enjoyed this series and found something in it to stimulate your prayer.  If you have, please do let me know either on or offline if you have any comments, suggestions or questions.

And if you are saying the penitential psalms as part of your Lenten discipline, do remember that Lent (or at least days with a penitential obligation attached if you are following the novus ordo calendar!) still has a few days to go.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Tuesday in Holy Week

c14th Armenian

Psalm 142/3: The gifts of the Holy Spirit

The Descent of the Holy Spirit. Fresco Borgia Apartments,
Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith, 1492-4

In the last part of this mini-series on Psalm 142 I suggested that the next step in the plan laid out in the penitential psalms for escaping the dominion of sin was meditation.   Meditating in itself though, effects nothing.  For it to be effective, we need God to be present in our meditation and contemplations, for the Holy Spirit to give us new life, as the psalmist makes clear in the verses I want to look at today.

Verses 10-12: Knowledge of God enkindled by his spirit

 In verse 10, the psalmist asks that God make known his ways to the genuine seeker after truth:

David Tenier the Younger, 1610-90,
Rocky Landscape with pilgrims

“Notam fac mihi viam, in qua ámbulem: * quia ad te levávi ánimam meam”,

or “Make the way known to me, wherein I should walk: for I have lifted up my soul to you.”

Secondly, in verse 11, he asks for God to teach him the virtue of obedience:

“…doce me fácere voluntátem tuam, quia Deus meus es tu”,

 or ‘teach me to do your will, for you are my God’.

Finally, and most crucially, in verse 12 he asks for the help of the Holy Ghost:

Spíritus tuus bonus dedúcet me in terram rectam: * propter nomen tuum, Dómine, vivificábis me, in æquitáte tua,

or ‘Your good spirit shall lead me into the right land: For your name's sake, O Lord, you will quicken me in your justice’.

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

Hildegarde von Bingen, creation

The existence of the Holy Ghost is of course foreshadowed in the Old Testament: in the spirit that hovers over the waters at the time of creation. The clearest prophesy of the life of grace that the psalmist is asking for here though, is surely those famous verses from Ezekiel, featured at the last World Youth Day.

St Robert Bellarmine comments:

“That good Spirit is the Holy Ghost, who is essentially good, and through whom "the charity of God is poured out into our hearts;" and this it is that makes us wish to work and carry out our wishes; and it is of it Ezechiel speaks when he says, "And I will put my Spirit in the midst of you, and I will cause you to walk in my commandments." This good Spirit "shall lead me into the right land;" in that plain and direct road, the Lord's law, which is most plain and direct The "right land" may also mean our country above, where all is right and straight, and nothing distorted or crooked. "For thy name's sake thou wilt quicken me in thy justice." To show us that justification, which is a sort of spiritual resuscitation, is not to be had from our own merits, but from the gratuitous gift of God, he adds, "For thy name's sake," for the glory that will accrue to you by the gift of so much grace, "thou wilt quicken me in thy justice."

Indeed, each of the seven penitential psalms can readily be associated with one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, no doubt one of the reasons why the Catechism of the Catholic Church in fact cites this verse in relation to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit:

CCC 1831: “The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations. Let your good spirit lead me on a level path. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God . . . If children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”

Defeating our enemies with the help of grace

I deliberately skipped over the first half of verse 11 above, which is the lead in to the request to be taught obedience and given the guidance of the Holy Ghost. In fact, it says:

Eripe me de inimícis meis, Dómine, ad te confúgi, or

Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord, to you have I fled.

These gifts of the spirit, then, together with the virtues, most especially hope, are the key to escaping sin and defeating the temptations that beset us in the spiritual war that we must wage.

And the last part in this series, continues on here.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Monday in Holy Week

Psalm 142/2: Seeking knowledge of God's ways

Jacob's Ladder, Morgan Bible c1240s or 50s
On Saturday I gave a general introduction to Psalm 142.  Today I want to look particularly at verse 5, where the psalmist talks about meditating on God's works.

The verse is important from two perspectives.  First as a reminder of one of the key tools of our spiritual life, meditation.  But secondly to warn of some of the dangers in this area.


The opening verses of Psalm 142 are a plea for God to listen to the psalmist's prayer be heard, and a reiteration of the sentiments of Psalm 129: we are all sinners, he points out, who would be unable to withstand God's judgment if he dealt with us strictly. 

As in the previous psalms, the speaker states that he is in a dire situation: his enemies are persecuting him, tempting him, and as a result he fell into a state of sin, consigning him to darkness; as a result, his soul is troubled and disturbed.  He is in that that state of restless that persists, as St Augustine says, until we come to rest with God.

Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 46v
David Beseeches God Against Evildoers
the Musée Condé, Chantilly.

In the earlier penitential psalms, the speaker works though a series of steps to escape from the darkness that encompass his soul: he offered tears of contrition; confessed his sins; and did penance in various forms.  Verse 5 of this psalm though, adds another important rung to this ladder to heaven, namely seeking knowledge of God’s ways through meditation on God's works.

Meditating on God’s works: Creation and God’s providential plan for his people

The starting point for knowledge, the psalmist asserts, is meditation on God’s works. Verse 5 states:

Memor fui diérum antiquórum, meditátus sum in ómnibus opéribus tuis: * in factis mánuum tuárum meditábar.

A reasonably literal translation is: 'I remembered (called to mind, memor fui) olden days (dierum antiquorum), I meditated (meditatus sum) on all your works (in omnibus operibus tuis): I meditated/pondered/think (meditabar) upon the works (factum=work, deed) of your hands (manuum tuarum).'

The neo-Vulgate has revised the text somewhat, to make the progression involved here clearer: from calling to mind, to meditating, and then contemplating or pondering (recogitare- consider, weigh, ponder or reflect) the implications:

Memor fui dierum antiquorum, meditatus sum in omnibus operibus tuis, in factis manuum tuarum recogitabam.

The verse then reminds us of the path our lectio divina should take!

God's works as a source of hope

The first point to note is that the psalmist does not jump to the 'via negativa', or negative path, which seeks to clear the mind of all created things in order to reach heaven.  On the contrary, he starts from God's works.

The psalmist makes it clear in the following verses that he is looking to the past as a source of hope: God has acted to help his people in the past, and has promised to do so again - and again and again!

If we simply look at the world around us without the perspective of the hope of heaven, we can easily lose our way; so too if try and we meditate on things seeking the 'via negativa' without first assimilating the important content of our faith.

The dangers: centering prayer and 'eco-Catholicism'

Think back over the past few decades to the popularity of that false path, centering prayer, which the Vatican has issued warnings about.

And the latest variation on this theme are the various odd forms of 'eco-Catholicism' that are springing up. Australian ex-priest Paul Collins for example, has propounded a greater focus on creation (and associated erroneous ideas such as support for contraception) since, he argues, mankind cannot possibly be as important as we tend to think we are since the universe is so immense, and has existed so much longer than we have.

The universe
Hildegarde von Bingen, Scivias Codex, c1165

Yet even the age of the universe (assuming of course that one accepts the scientific consensus on this subject!) is but a blink of an eye to God, who stands outside time and space. Perhaps more importantly, neither size or the time something takes to happen are true measures of relative importance.

When we consider the immensity of the universe, and the time it has taken for evolution under God's guidance to reach this point (assuming you believe in evolution of course), we are invited to wonder at God's special care for us, not see it as evidence, as atheists and agnostics do, that God doesn't really exist at all, or that God doesn't really care for us in particular in a special way.

More, surely it is obvious that some times and places are far more important than others!  For the believer, in the history of mankind, the thirty three years of Our Lord's life made far more impact on our history than even centuries or millennia worth of events.  And within those thirty three years, some events are much more important than others.  Until the moment of the Incarnation, human history had been going nowhere. And until those few, horrendous but vitally important hours on the Cross, each person's life effectively ended with their death. But through the resurrection of Christ, our horizon too, becomes one of eternity.

Hildegarde von Bingen, Book of Divine Works

So what should be the subject of our meditation if we want to escape the thrall of sin?

So when we come to meditate, by all means take the opportunities and things that come to us as our subject.  But try also and balance that with a focus on the events that really matter, such as Our Lord's birth, death and resurrection.

In pointing to God's deeds, the psalmist is, I think, inviting us to recall above all two kinds of God's works.  First, the work of creation itself, evident in nature, society and culture; and secondly God's ongoing providential care of his people down the ages, manifested in particular in the events of salvation history.

Meditating on the wonder of natural creation is important: through it we are reminded of God's power, his goodness and much more.  Through it we can reach knowledge of God's law.  And yes, it should humble us, put our lives into perspective.

We need though, to remember that creation was not just a once off event - without God's action to continue to sustain us at every moment we would cease to exist!

In addition, we need to remember that God continues to guide history, and makes us co-creators of society and culture, one of the many reasons we should study that those subjects, especially of course, the history of the Church and the lives of her saints.

Above all, we need to spend the most time meditating on the significance of the events that changed the history of both this world and the next, in the life and death of Our Lord. 

So when we meditate on God's deeds, the work of his hands, by all means consider the importance of creation: but remember creation does not just mean nature, but also, society and culture.  Above all, we need to call to mind and meditate on the great events of salvation history set out for us in Scripture.

For if we wish to escape from sin, we need to develop the true perspective that comes from the hope of heaven.

And this series continues here.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Hapy Birthday Holy Father!

The Pope turns 84 today!

May he have many more years....

Introduction to Psalm 142

David fleeing from Absalom, folio 72r
Belles Heures of Jean de France*
Today, I want to start the last stretch of this Lent series with an introduction to the last of the seven penitential psalms, Psalm 142 (143).

Psalm 142, like Psalm 129, the De Profundis, that proceeds it in this grouping, starts with the psalmist calling out from the last of his strength. Psalm 129 ended by looking forward to redemption through Our Lord; this psalm takes us a step further, to the coming of the Holy Spirit to guide us in God’s ways, and the eventual defeat of evil.

The text

First, read through the psalm again. You can find the Vulgate and the first part of a setting of it by Lassus here (the link to the second half is below). The English translation, following as usual the Vulgate arrangement of verses for liturgical use, is:

“Hear, O Lord, my prayer: give ear to my supplication in your truth: hear me in your justice.
And enter not into judgment with your servant: for in your sight no man living shall be justified.
For the enemy has persecuted my soul: he has brought down my life to the earth.
He has made me to dwell in darkness as those that have been dead of old: And my spirit is in anguish within me: my heart within me is troubled.
I remembered the days of old, I meditated on all your works: I meditated upon the works of your hands.
I stretched forth my hands to you: my soul is as earth without water unto you.
Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit has fainted away.
Turn not away your face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.
Cause me to hear your mercy in the morning; for in you have I hoped.
Make the way known to me, wherein I should walk: for I have lifted up my soul to you.
Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord, to you have I fled: Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Your good spirit shall lead me into the right land: For your name's sake, O Lord, you will quicken me in your justice.
You will bring my soul out of trouble: And in your mercy you will destroy my enemies.
And you will cut off all them that afflict my soul: for I am your servant.”

Psalm 142, Folio 72r*


Like Psalm 129, many modern commentators see Psalm 142 as reflecting the people of Israel at the time of the Exile, suggesting that it be thought of as Davidic in the sense of reflecting his ideas and style rather than strictly being of his authorship. The Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint, however, both clearly ascribe this psalm to David. And the Vulgate goes a step further, and adds a descriptor suggesting that it is set at the time described in 2 Kings 17 when King David took to the hills, pursued by his son Absalom and his rebellious army, as depicted in the picture above.

Nonetheless, this context should probably be regarded as purely speculative, particularly given that few of the major commentators seem to make much of it, preferring to see it as about David in a more generic sense, particularly as a type of Our Lord. St Augustine, for example, sees the psalm primarily as a prophesy of Our Lord’s coming.   In fact, in the Divine Office this psalm is said at Lauds because of its plea for mercy in the morning (verse 9) – but the morning reference is symbolic as well: the person dwelling in darkness, in the shadow of death (vs 4), looks to the light of Christ’s rising. Indeed, the psalm is used at the Ordinary Form Easter Vigil presumably for this very reason.

Key themes

Psalm 142, fittingly for the final psalm in the set, picks up a number of the themes that run through some or all of the penitential psalms: the dire nature of the psalmist’s personal situation; the sense of restlessness of a soul separated from God; and above all the sense that God has abandoned him on account of his sin.

The psalmist also develops further the idea set out in previous psalms that no one could truly withstand God’s judgment were it to be exercized strictly. As Pope John Paul II points out in his catechesis on this psalm:

“The text that we want to examine today was particularly dear to St Paul, who detected in it a radical sinfulness of every human creature: "for no man living is righteous before you, (O Lord)" (v. 2). This thought is used by the Apostle as the foundation of his teaching on sin and grace (cf. Gal 2: 16; Rm 3: 20).”

The true core of the psalm, though, it seems to me, at least in the context of the penitential psalms, is the psalmist’s fervent desire to be with God, vividly expressed in verse 6, where he compares his soul to land parched dry by drought. And it is the means by which he proposes this drought be brought to an end that I want to focus on in the next few parts of this mini-series.

The last few verses, which pray for the defeat of the psalmist's enemies, can at first seem a little jarring to modern ears.  In fact the version of the Douay-Rheims I've quoted above makes them future tense rather than reflecting the subjunctive ('may he') of the Vulgate, and they are omitted altogether from the Liturgy of the Hours.  The key I think, is to interpret them in this context at least, primarily at least as a prayer for God's help in defeating our own personal demons, and overcoming sin, temptations and weaknesses with the help of God's grace.  But more on that in the next part of this mini-series.

In the meantime, enjoy the continuation of Orlando di Lasso's setting from his Septimus Psalmus Poenitentialis (you can find the first part back with the text of the psalm in Latin and English here).

* Illuminations above both from: Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, 1405–1408/9. Herman, Paul, and Jean de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum; 9 3/8 x 6 5/8 in. (23.8 x 16.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1).

Friday, 15 April 2011

Oh to be in Rome this May...

Well, actually Rome jam-packed for the beatification will probably be pretty uncomfortable, but still, lots of wonderful events filling up the schedule immediately afterwards should you happen to be there...
  • the official Vatican bloggers meeting scheduled for May 2 - as of Monday 400 people had applied for the 150 available places;
  • the unofficial blognic, open to all the next day on May 3, shaping up to be the event of the year;
  • the third Summorum Pontificum Conference on May 13-15.

Psalm 129/2 - Introduction continued

Belles Heures of Jean de France,
duc de Berry, folio 71v*

And now on with another installment of my series on the penitential psalms.  Today, the second part of my introduction to the sixth of the penitential psalms, Psalm 129.

I said in the first part of this introduction to Psalm 129 that its essential theme is God’s willingness to forgive even the gravest sins, and I want to provide some material that develops that theme a little more today.

God is always willing to forgive

The idea that there are some sins that cannot be forgiven, or that there is a limit to the number of times a particular sin can be forgiven is one of those recurrent heresies that still gains traction in our time.

One even hears articulated the idea that repenting at times of personal disaster, even on the deathbed, is somehow wrong or too late - somehow a cowardly act going contrary to how one has lived one's life.

This is a horrendous error, for the very opposite is true!

Bad times are exactly when we should turn back to God.  It takes courage to renounce a lifetime of error.  And it takes a gift of a great grace from God.

Indeed, Pope St Leo the Great used this psalm to instruct a bishop that absolution should not be withheld from those who express penitence, no matter what the circumstance, or what doubts there may be around the case:

“...because we cannot place limits to God’s mercy nor fix times for Him with whom true conversion suffers no delay of forgiveness, as says God’s Spirit by the prophet, “when thou hast turned and lamented, then shalt thou be saved;” and elsewhere, “Declare thou thy iniquities beforehand, that thou may’st be justified ;” and again, “For with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption.” And so in dispensing God’s gifts we must not be hard, nor neglect the tears and groans of self-accusers, seeing that we believe the very feeling of penitence springs from the inspiration of God, as says the Apostle, “lest perchance God will give them repentance that they may recover themselves from the snares of the devil, by whom they are held captive at his will..”

In such cases there may well be temporal punishment left to be worked off either in this world or in purgatory.  But as the psalm sets out, redemption will come, as surely as the dawn comes after the night.

Reverent awe

And God's merciful forgiveness, expressed in verses 3-4, should in turn invoke in us a sense of reverent awe, as Pope Benedict XVI has pointed out:

“It is significant that reverent awe, a sentiment in which respect and love are mingled, is not born from punishment but from forgiveness. Rather than sparking his anger, God's generous and disarming magnanimity must kindle in us a holy reverence. Indeed, God is not an inexorable sovereign who condemns the guilty but a loving father whom we must love, not for fear of punishment, but for his kindness, quick to forgive.”

God’s forgiveness brings additional gifts

Fresco of the annunciation to St Zachariah,
Pope Benedict XVI concluded his catechesis on this psalm with some commentary from St Ambrose on the benefits that can flow from absolution from our sins, and I commend it to you also:

“Let us choose St Ambrose's words: in his writings he often recalled the reasons that motivated him to invoke pardon from God. "We have a good Lord who wants to forgive everyone", he recalled in his Treatise on Penance, and he added: "If you want to be justified, confess your fault: a humble confession of sins untangles the knot of faults.... You see with what hope of forgiveness you are impelled to make your confession" (2, 6, 40-41: Sancti Ambrosii Episcopi Mediolanensis Opera [SAEMO], XVII, Milan-Rome, 1982, p. 253). In the Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke, repeating the same invitation, the Bishop of Milan expressed his wonder at the gifts that God added to his forgiveness: "You see how good God is and ready to pardon sins: not only does he give back everything he had taken away, but he also grants unhoped for gifts". Zechariah, John the Baptist's father, lost the ability to speak because he did not believe the angel, but subsequently, in pardoning him, God granted him the gift of prophecy in the hymn of the Benedictus: "The one who could not speak now prophesies", St Ambrose said, adding that "it is one of the greatest graces of the Lord, that those who have denied him should confess belief in him. Therefore, no one should lose trust, no one should despair of the divine reward, even if previous sins cause him remorse. God can change his opinion if you can make amends for your sin" (2, 33: SAEMO, XI, Milan-Rome, 1978, p. 175).”

Tomorrow, on to the last of the penitential psalms, Psalm 142.  In the meantime, enjoy this setting of the psalm for your meditation.

*Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, 1405–1408/9. Herman, Paul, and Jean de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum; 9 3/8 x 6 5/8 in. (23.8 x 16.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1).

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Feast of St Mary McKillop now Class I - August 8

The news is just in that the Vatican have approved making the feast of St Mary McKillop on August 8 a solemnity.

A saint's life as an example

Interestingly, for those concerned about the example provided by a certain other upcoming beatification (and those who claim that the only criterion is heroic virtue), the press release suggests that this reflects the great example the saint provides to Australians:

"This honour is a recognition that the story of and devotion to St Mary MacKillop has a prominent place in the Catholic community in Australia.

President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Archbishop Philip Wilson said that this honour is a recognition that the story of and devotion to St Mary MacKillop has a prominent place in the Catholic community in Australia.

“As Australia’s first Saint it is fitting that the liturgy of the Church in Australia on her feast day should reflect that by having the highest liturgical rank”, he said.

“Many of the Bishops of Australia and 8,000 of the faithful went to Rome last year, and many more celebrated in locations around Australia the Canonisation of our first Saint

For All Australians, whether Catholic or not, Mary MacKillop is seen as a woman of heroic virtue, and this goes a little further toward honouring her great example.”

It is expected that on 8 August this year, parishes around Australia will celebrate with special Masses to mark the occasion."

Introduction to Psalm 129/1: De Profundis

Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 70r
Musée Condé, Chantilly.

In this Lent series on the penitential psalms, we are now up to the sixth penitential psalm, Psalm 129 (130). Psalm 129, or the De Profundis, is, like, the Miserere, extremely well known, so I won’t linger over it long. Part I of my introduction to it today; tomorrow I’ll conclude it.  But this is a very profound psalm, so I do hope that my brief notes stimulate you to look at it more deeply!

The opening of this psalm,‘Out of the deep', or ‘from the abyss’ suggests that the speaker is coming from a very dark place in his life. But in fact this is a wonderfully optimistic psalm, full of the virtue of hope; and a psalm that serves well as a prayer for strength against the danger of despair. Like the last psalm, the motivation now is the hope of heaven, not the fear of hell.  As such, it reflects the spiritual progression evident in the sequence of the penitential psalms. 

A prayer for those in purgatory

As with its predecessor Psalm 101, Psalm 129 combines both an individual’s concern for himself, and a more communal dimension. It is a traditional preparatory prayer for Mass.  In the Christian context, however, the De Profundis is actually best known as a prayer for those in purgatory – it is used in the funeral services, and has a partial indulgence attached to the saying of it.

St Francis rescuing souls from purgatory
Molleno (circa 1805-1850)
Brooklyn Museum

I'm not here going to explore those aspects of the psalm relating to its place in the Office of the Dead here (though they are obviously closely related to its role as a penitential psalm) beyond noting the obvious focus on the virtue of hope, and the promise of redemption the psalm offers. 

All the same, as you take the time to read it through again, perhaps you might say it aloud, with the intention of applying the indulgence to a particular soul or the souls in purgatory in general. You can find the Vulgate, as well as that splendid setting by di Lassus to listen to here.  The English, following the liturgical versification, is:

1 Out of the depths I have cried to you, O Lord:
2 Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
3 If you, O Lord, will mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it.
4 For with you there is merciful forgiveness: and by reason of your law, I have waited for you, O Lord. 5 My soul has relied on his word: My soul has hoped in the Lord.
6 From the morning watch even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord.
7 Because with the Lord there is mercy: and with him plentiful redemption.
8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities

Historical context

The dating of this psalm is not clear cut. Many commentators (including St Alphonsus Liguori) suggest that it was composed probably during the Babylonian Exile, mainly because of its references to the redemption of Israel.

Yet 2 Chronicles 6:36-42, which is part of a prayer of King Solomon, alludes to and explains this psalm, and mentions Solomon's father, King David. And it is possible that the last few lines of the psalm were later additions. So the psalm may well be by David himself. 

Of course, there is a whole other debate on the sources, purpose and date(s) of composition of Chronicles. But still...

Here are the verses in question from Chronicles:

"And if they sin against you (for there is no man that sins not) and you be angry with them, and deliver them up to their enemies, and they lead them away captive to a land either afar off, or near at hand, and if they be converted in their heart in the land to which they were led captive, and do penance, and pray to you in the land of their captivity saying: We have sinned, we have done wickedly, we have dealt unjustly: And return to you with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their captivity, to which they were led away, and adore you towards the way of their own land which you gave their fathers, and of the city, which you have chosen, and the house which I have built to your name: Then hear from heaven, that is, from your firm dwelling place, their prayers, and do judgment, and forgive your people, although they have sinned: For you are my God: let your eyes, I beseech you, be open, and let your ears be attentive to the prayer, that is made in this place. Now therefore arise, O Lord God, into your resting place, you and the ark of your strength: let your priests, O Lord God, put on salvation, and your saints rejoice in good things. O Lord God, turn not away the face of your anointed: remember the mercies of David your servant."

God’s great mercy calls forth great penitents

The main theme of this psalm is God’s offer to us of redemption, fulfilled in Christ.

Human nature makes us all sinners, the psalmist points out, yet not only is God willing to forgive, but he offers the ‘fullness of redemption’. There is an important message here, for although one of the key reasons for the neglect of the sacrament of penance is the loss of the sense of sin, the other perhaps is the loss of the sense of God’s mercy, symbolized for me at least by the attempt in recent decades to sanitize St Mary Magdalene’s history, and reject the traditional identification of her with the woman whose sin’s Our Lord forgave in Luke 7.

Yet the idea that even the greatest sinner – whether a murderer and adulterer King David, a prostitute, or one who, like St Peter did, denies Our Lord – can still repent and be forgiven is crucial to our Catholic faith.

Penitent Magdalene, Titian, c1565

It is particularly important, of course, firstly as a message to those who do commit serious sins. St Robert Bellarmine comments:

To be truly penitent, (the subject of the Prophet's instruction in this penitential Psalm,) we need two things; to reflect on our own wretched condition, and to know the extent of God's mercy; because he that is ignorant of the state he is in, seeks for no medicine, does no penance; and he that has no idea of God's mercy, falls into despair, and looks upon penance as of no value.”

But it is also an important doctrinal message for all of us, no matter what the state of our souls at any particular point in time, namely to encourage us to pray for the conversion of others.  For this psalm reminds us that as long as they remain alive, even the most hardened sinner may yet repent and be saved.

More in the next part

In the meantime, a setting by Aarvo Pärt.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A response to the 'Gaudium et Spes' generation: thank you Cardinal Pell!

The latest edition of The Swag, the journal of the National Council of Priests of Australia, carries a response by Cardinal Pell of Sydney to the atrocious attack on the Church by Fr Eric Hodgens, a priest of the Melbourne Archdiocese, in its last edition. 

Responding to the liberals: yes!

Excellent.  And there is some great stuff here, long overdue to be said out loud.

The story also gets a run in The Australian today, albeit with a rather sensationalist headline.

Good to see at least one bishop stand up for the teaching authority of the Church!

Here are Cardinal Pell's key comments, with a few comments of my own!  The sub-headings, bolding and comments in red are mine.

"Some Gaudium and No Spes

April 2011 By George Cardinal Pell

Father Eric Hodgens’ piece on the Gaudium et Spes priests gives us plenty of food for thought. It is well written and provocative, as you would expect of a priest who described his own cohort as possessing “the biggest proportion of intelligent, educated and competent leaders”. But it is unbalanced, misguided, selective and sometimes inaccurate.

Recently I have been concerned by the theological extremism of some Swag contributions, and am grateful for the opportunity to state the case for the orthodox mainstream. I am not ordering anyone to “withdraw to the fortress and sing the old song[hmm, why not!  Until the 'new song' becomes orthodox, sticking the old might be safer!], but my best lines are still from the New Testament with its ancient truths and melodies.

Nature of the Catholic priesthood

Eric sees himself now as “a presbyter called and ordained by the Church – the People of God” rather than as “a priest called and consecrated by God”. It is difficult to know exactly what this means, but it might point us to a number of fundamental issues.

Fr Hodgens: a radical protestant, or just a liberal heretic?

More cards have been laid on the table than in Father Hodgens’ earlier writings. While it would be interesting to know whether he still has any jokers up his sleeve, it is more important to recognize that many of the cards cannot be identified accurately. We do not know, for example, his answers to the nine questions he lists. We do not know the limits to his hostility to some ancient devotions such as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and veneration of Our Lady. We do not know whether his opposition to the papacy and episcopate touches these institutions themselves or simply the style of recent incumbents. So too with priesthood and traditional Christian teaching on marriage, divorce and sexuality.[ie just how far does his heresy go]

We cannot be sure whether Eric’s theological position is typical of a liberal or a radical Protestantism. But as an exercise in loyal dissent it moves beyond the limits of orthodox Catholicism.[Yep that is pretty clear!]

Let me attempt to state the issue in the most basic terms.

The Church as the recipient of revelation

We find no evidence in Eric’s article that the Catholic Church is the recipient of divine revelation, “God’s message not some human thinking” (1 Thess 2.13); nor that the Catholic Church was founded by the Son of God “the Word who was with God . . . the Word who was God” (Jn 1.1), Jesus the Christ, the son of Mary with a divine as well as a human nature. If Christ is divine, New Testament teachings have a unique authority.

The failure of the liberal agenda

Eric writes with the genuine anguish of most of us older Catholics who grew up at an unusually high tide of faith and practice and lived through the radical decline which followed the social revolution of the 1960s in the First World. But some of the damage was self-inflicted.

One major point of difference is that in my view Eric’s prescriptions are a significant cause of our problems. His solutions were put into practice after the Council, to some degree in Australia, but especially in Belgium, Holland and French-speaking Canada. They emptied the Churches there.

Pope Paul VI appointed no bishops who were opposed to the ethos of Vatican II, and for various reasons the good bishops appointed in Holland were overwhelmed, tossed aside by the liberal gales. This brings me to another contemporary fact, which I never anticipated as a young seminarian in Rome during the Council or as a young priest. The now aged liberal wing of the Church, which dominated discussion after the Council and often the bishops and the emerging Church bureaucracies, has no following among young practising Catholics, priests or religious. This is not only true in Australia, but everywhere in the Western world. In these different countries dominated by a secular media and intelligentsia, liberalism has no young Catholic progeny.

On reflection we should not find this surprising, as growth is tied to Gospel fidelity, to faith, love and sacrifice. After Vatican II many of us overestimated our cultural strengths and underestimated the virulence of anti-Christian forces. You need strong Christian foundations to participate productively in “open dialogue”. Without these roots the end of the road is agnosticism.

In defence of a few popes

I should conclude with a few words in defence of the four popes who were mauled, especially Paul, John Paul II and Benedict. Incidentally it is a matter of historical record that at the 1971 Synod of Bishops, Pope Paul offered to the bishops the option of ordaining married men to the priesthood and the bishops declined to accept this.[And this kind of thing is of course the reason why traditionalists share some of the misgivings about some recent popes, albeit for very different reasons, with the liberals.]

All three popes were prolific writers, while John Paul II and Benedict were professional academics with a record of scholarly and popular publications rarely if ever equalled by any Australian priest. I believe Pope Benedict is now our most distinguished living theologian.

The charges against the Holy Father do not amount to too much e.g. instituting a special year to honour priests (which was well received by priests and people), continuing with a new translation of the Roman Missal, and encouraging the Tridentine Mass to be celebrated. He did not receive back the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, but only lifted their excommunication. They are still in schism. [Good to see someone clearly using the S word in relation to the SSPX!  Though no doubt that will upset more than a few...]

Pope John Paul provokes a special hostility, allegedly an abuser of power, out of touch in scripture, limited in theology, a bad listener. It is a surprise that anyone came to his funeral. In particular he is denounced for emasculating the leadership of the Church, who are clerical and compliant, “low on creativity, leadership, education and even intelligence”.

In an astonishing example of provincial arrogance, Hodgens claims that “the more intelligent and better educated” bishops (only “some” to be sure) are corrupt and have sold their soul for advancement. Me thinks he protests too much.

Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict were not hostile to intelligence, education or competence, but they have striven regularly to appoint bishops who will defend the apostolic tradition and strive to implement policies which will strengthen the Catholic position, not white-ant it. [I'm sure more than a few traditionalists actually share some of the concerns of the liberals over bishop appointments in recent decades - even in recent months!  The reality I would suggest is that there have been a very mixed bag indeed of appointments.  Traditionalists would certainly like to see more of those who will, as the Cardinal suggests, defend and strengthen the Catholic tradition.  Unfortunately there are still may white-anters in place and still some doubtful ones getting through...]

The failure in recent decades to defend Magisterial teaching

Hodgens’ misunderstanding of the magisterium is typical of his position. The magisterium refers primarily to the teaching authority of the pope together with the bishops (Vatican II’s collegiality). The baptised faithful share in this and so do the theologians with priests and religious.

Certainly the teaching authority of the bishops was recognized early by St. Ignatius of Antioch (+107 A.D.) and St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (+200 A.D.) with his apostolic succession lists of bishops to defend the apostolic tradition. The ancient teaching chair of the bishop exemplifies this, predating by many centuries any groups of professional theologians in the medieval universities. In Pope John Paul’s 27 years of pontificate 24 individuals were disciplined for their theological views, including eight who were silenced or removed, in the worldwide Catholic community of more than one billion believers. Father Hodgens himself escaped any reign of terror and so did many hundreds of dissidents.[Indeed, and the fact that no action has been taken represents a continuing scandal.  But it is not too late to act!]

Eric is a bit too generous to his generation, to which I belong. Many were formidable, but we coincided with a period of decline probably unparalleled since the Reformation.

“Reflections on an ordination golden anniversary” is thought provoking. I am glad Father Hodgens has enjoyed his years of priesthood. Unfortunately much of the analysis is mistaken since his solutions, to the extent we can identify them, are less than Catholic and would make a difficult situation worse.

Psalm 101/5: A new heaven and a new earth

Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry,
Folio 34r - the Musée Condé

Today I want to finish off my mini-series of notes to aid your lectio divina on Psalm 101, part of a bigger Lenten series on the penitential psalms, with a look at the concluding verses of the psalm.

Yesterday I looked at verses 12-14 of Psalm 101, which point us to a higher motive for repentance - no longer fear of hell, but rather the desire for heaven. I noted that a key focus of the psalm was the question of time: the contrast between human mortality and God’s eternity; and the timing of our collective and individual restoration to God’s favour.

Today I want to look more closely at that hope of heaven, and more particularly of the new heaven and earth promised after the Last Judgment, in the context of verses 26 to 29, which close this fifth penitential psalm.


Psalm 101, in verse 14, states that the time has come for God to arise and have mercy on Sion  - a reference to Christ’s reopening of the doors between heaven and earth.

But although Christ opens the door and issues an invitation to us – but we still have to take it up.  At the individual level it means that we must seek perfection, making use of the sacraments, especially penance: there comes a time when, having made our confession, we are entitled to eat the bread of heaven again instead of ashes mingled with tears (verse 10).  At the level of the nation, it means we must work to ensure that the laws of the nation, and its culture are consistent with and conducive to Christianity, so that ‘the people assemble together, and kings, to serve the Lord’: whatever view one takes on the much-debated issue of the proper relation between Church and state, the two can never be altogether independent and utterly disconnected, for it the actions of the State must always be grounded in and purified by truth.  And we must strive too for the holiness of the Church, symbolized in the psalm by the stones of Jerusalem (verse 15). The Church, of course is always holy: through her sacraments and saints, and by virtue of the guarantee provided to us by Our Lord. Yet the actual degree of holiness in the Church Militant can of course vary, depending on the degree of fidelity of priests, religious and people!

All this leads up to another plea by the psalmist for God to grant him life: in verse 25 he says, ‘call me not away in the midst of my days’, since God himself endures forever.

Verses 26-28: You change them like a garment

The climax of this psalm comes in Verses 26 to 28, verses quoted in Hebrews:

26 Inítio tu, Dómine, terram fundásti: * et ópera mánuum tuárum sunt cæli.
27 Ipsi peribunt, tu autem pérmanes: * et omnes sicut vestiméntum veteráscent.
28 Et sicut opertórium mutábis eos, et mutabúntur: * tu autem idem ipse es, et anni tui non defícient.

The RSV translates this as:

“Of old thou didst lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
They will perish, but thou dost endure; they will all wear out like a garment.
Thou changest them like raiment, and they pass away; but thou art the same, and thy years have no end.”

St Robert Bellarmine interprets it thus.  God created heaven and earth: yet all of this creation is temporal and will come to an end. Yet this is not the end for us: for God changes us to, creates the new person ready to dwell in the new heaven and earth he has promised:

“Here he gives the name of temporal to everything we see, because the very elements, and the heavens, as we see them, will have an end. We see the earth clothed with trees, full of cattle, ornament¬ed with buildings; the rivers now placidly rolling along, now swollen and muddy; the sky now clouded, now serene; the stars in perpetual motion; all of which are temporal, and sure to come to an end; for, as St. Peter writes, "We look for new heavens and a new earth, according to his promise."

Not with a whimper but a bang!

Tapestry, c14th, the New Jerusalem

One of the most important reasons for our loss of the sense of sin is our loss of the sense of eschatological realities, of the concrete reality of heaven and hell. If we wish to gain eternity, we must direct our attention to the objective of reaching the former now!

Yet that orientation is constantly eroded by the theology espoused by contemporary theologians, who, rejecting the Church’s long tradition on this subject, suggest that the new heaven and earth is already with us, brought about primarily by those who work for social justice, rather than the operation of grace. I’m not just talking abut the more extreme liberal variants on this theme, but also of ‘mainstream’ scholars such as Scott Hahn who, interprets the symbolism of the book of Revelation purely in terms of the Mass, and suggests that the new heaven and earth will arrive not so much with a bang as a whimper:

“But what if Jesus’ Second Coming turned out to much like His first?...What then should be our image of Jesus’ Second Coming? For me, it is Eucharistic, and it is brought about as the Mass brings heaven to earth…We stand on the earth as the elements stand on the altar. We are here to be transformed: to die to self, live for others, and love like God.” (Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper The Mass as Heaven on Earth, Doubleday: New York, 1999, pp 134-6).

True at one level, perhaps, but only if we remember that our own transfiguration, like that of the Church and the world, is still a work in progress:

“…The new Temple, not made by human hands, does exist, but it is still under construction. The great gesture of embrace emanating from the Crucified has not yet reached its goal; it has only just begun. Christian liturgy is liturgy on the way, a liturgy of pilgrimage toward the transfiguration of the world, which will only take place when God is “all in all”…. this City is not yet here. This is why the Church Fathers described the various stages of fulfilment, not just as contrast between Old and New Testaments, but as the three steps of shadow, image, and reality.” (Benedict XVI, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Ignatius Press: San Francisco; 2000 , pp 50, 54).

And thus we pray with the psalmist, that we may yet participate in the true reality, forever with God....

Tomorrow, on  to the sixth penitential psalm, the De Profundis.  And for a last listen to Psalm 101, some Romanian chant.