Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Against heresies: on divisiveness, nuance and dialogue

The writings of the Church Fathers are full of titles such as 'Against Heresies': highly polemical works that took on the errors of both pagans outside the Church and heretics within it. 

Many of the great saints down the ages - such as St Athanasius and St Bernard of Clairvaux to name just two - were similarly divisive figures, whose campaigns against error in their day made them many enemies.

Those who, like myself and other orthodox contributors in places like Cath News, Cath Pews, our own blogs and other places, occasionally or frequently engage in modern day versions of these same debates don't claim to be great saints. 

But are we following, in our own small way, in the steps of these great models, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit? 

Does the 'New Evangelization' demand that we act to evangelize within as well as reach out?

Should we be 'divisive'?

The clear answer from many quarters would be no. 

Write something that insists on orthodoxy in the face of error in places like Cath News, and you will be berated as subscribing to a 'psychology of militancy', a failure to understand 'nuance' (presumably just like the Vatican failed to understand Bishop Morris' 'nuancing' of his infamous Pastoral Letter?), and treated to a Coyne-esq rant on driving people out of the Church!

But the idea that we should paint over the cracks and ignore internal divisions within the Church is not, alas, restricted to a vocal minority of the liberals who dominate the Cath News boards however. 

Rather, the view that insistence on orthodoxy constitutes 'extremism' and is to be deplored is being actively promoted even through dioceses, in events and on websites, for example in the form of talks by people like the Vice-Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, Greg Craven.


Luckily, A Country Priest Blog has an excellent post on this very subject at the moment, debunking the 'What Would Jesus Do' mentality, and pointing to the reality of Our Lord's own style of positively goading the opposition, and even his own disciples, at times.

Guest blogger Joel Peart* points notes that:

"They suppose that Jesus was accepting and tolerant. I’m not really sure where they got this impression though, because the bible doesn’t paint him like that at all. He’s actually rather uncompromising and divisive; his attitude generally said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. Where we’re told there’s an even hotter fire being stoked. See John 6. He was goading his disciples to walk away, to the point where Peter felt the need to justify himself still hanging around. Yikes."

He also comments on the problems of the 'Jesus as a moral exemplar' model, when detached from consideration of the Tradition:

"The other time it [WWJD] might be used is by someone faced with moral dilemma. So in their mind, they try taking themselves back to Jerusalem in 33AD, or they have Our Blessed Lord teleported into their time and place. It deliberately does away with 2000 years of teaching that has been founded on scripture, guided by Holy Spirit and proven in the lives of the saints. And this is supposedly a good thing."

The fantasy Jesus

Joel goes on to point out that separating the Gospels from the Church leads to a  "Jesus who is a figment of your imagination."

A good example of this is the Cath News debate on Church Architecture.  One of my protagonists over there was arguing that expenditure on welfare should always trump expenditure on worship.  When I pointed him to the story of St Mary Magdalene using expensive ointment to wash Our Lord's feet, and being taken to task by Judas for not selling it and giving it to the poor (St John Chapter 10) as an example of God's teaching on the priority of worship over welfare, he replied, inter alia:

"....Besides, maybe Jesus was having a tired day and threw away words he later would have insisted must be taken in context. Even he had to have some down time!"

Sad stuff.

Can one really engage in dialectics when our starting assumptions are so opposed?

All of this points to the challenges in engaging in these debates (can we call it dialogue?!).

The first and biggest one is just getting your stuff posted, as a Canberra Observer noted on another post: call a spade a spade and you will find your posts rejected in some places!

The second though, is when you peel back the layers, the starting assumptions of liberals and catholics are almost diametrically opposed.  If we aren't even vaguely on the same page, is there really any point to debate?

Take the Church architecture discussion.  My main protagonist over there, Mark Johnson, eventually came clean and argued against one of the most fundamental propositions that lie behind the Churches devotion to the arts (including architecture) down the ages, suggesting that beauty does not in fact lead to God (you might want to read his whole post, since he claims I've misunderstood the 'nuances' of he is saying).  Here is the quote I have allegedly misunderstood:

"The 'feelings' inspired by 'beauty' are not the sure path to God, but only to our own comforting sensibilities. It is a despairing step, not one of freedom."

So in his view, instead of churches pointing us to heaven and God, they represent a flight from the problems of this world.

And one can't really argue from Scripture with him, since he rejects the long tradition of orthodox commentaries on the relevant passages of Scripture, characterising the Navarre Bible for example, as being a case of  "Rancid wine in old skins".

Another commentator, Francis, keeps seeming to forget that Jesus is God (!), suggesting for example that references to the Tetragrammaton in the Old Testament do not include Jesus.  She (or he) similarly argues that bits of the (infallible) Magisterium can be freely discarded.  She also fails to understand just why protestant scholars might have a different understanding of the importance of churches than the Catholic tradition!

Can one really have a sensible debate in these circumstances?

Registering truth

In theory, I suppose, there is a point in at least trying to signal the orthodox position.

The difference between Catholica and Cath News, for example, is that in the case of the first, Mr Coyne makes it clear that he is only seeking engagement by like minded people (fair enough), whereas Cath News claims a broader mandate, even if in practice it acts more like the Tablet, providing lines, particularly thorugh Cath Blog, to feed a particular liberal mentality.

Still, maybe the struggle is worthwhile if it causes at least one reader to have an 'ah hah' moment?

But to turn the tide, what really seems to be needed is action that is far more fundamental and far-reaching, far more radical agenda, because incrementalism and rational argument by themselves is surely never going to change these hearts and minds.

What is to be done?

*Apologies, I originally attributed the post to Fr Corrigan not noticing that he had turned his blog over temporarily to a guest blogger.   That will teach me to try and post while not really keeping up with the blogs...Do hope Joel will start his own blog when Fr C returns however!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Msgr Dempsey cleared?

Yesterday's story about Archbishop Hepworth having his application to resume his priesthood knocked back was, it seems, just the warm up to today's news that the Adelaide Archdiocese's internal investigation has rejected Archbishop Hepworth's assorted claims of sexual abuse and rape. 

It was, it seems, an example of the kind of slimy media management that one expects from politicians, but hopes for better from the Church.

You can read all of the various news stories from Cath News' list of links.

Good process, good outcomes; bad process....

Unfortunately, the report by leading Adelaide establishment figure Michael Abbott QC will surely satisfy no one that justice has been seen to be done; on the face of it, it merely serves to give the archdiocese a fig leaf to hide behind.

That's because while the report may be 150 pages long, the investigation was conducted without actually interviewing the prime witness, viz Archbishop Hepworth, who refused to participate because he wasn't happy with the proposed choice of investigator, wasn't given the terms of reference for the inquiry, was expected to pay the costs of any witnesses he brought forward, and witnesses were not indemnified. 

It is true of course, that the archdiocese was put in an difficult position by the public release of the name of the accused priest by Senator Xenophon (though that was of course in turn prompted by a perceived lack of action and responsiveness) but a defensive reaction in turn that doesn't at least make a serious attempt to satisfy all sides helps no one in the long run.  

Surely more effort could have been made to resolve the process issues around all of this? 

But of course, process has been an issue from the very beginning of this case, so no reason for that to change at this point it seems...

Other Ordinariate news: Fr Peter Slipper MP!

The other curious story of the day is the news that the interesting new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper MP is, as Cath News puts it 'a fully ordained priest of the Traditional Anglican Communion' (what would constitute a partly ordained priest?  And is he actually ordained in the eyes of the Catholic Church?  I doubt it.  But never mind!).  

Peter Slipper, for the benefit of my overseas readers, was installed as the new Speaker on the last sitting day of parliament this year following the shock resignation of the current speaker. Mr Slipper, had, up until now, been a member of the Opposition, but was facing disendorsement following his acceptance of the Deputy Speakership a year ago. Now he has joined the ranks of the independents, effectively giving the minority Labor Government two more much needed votes.

Mr Slipper, it seems, has been a strong supporter of the Ordinariate, and may well need an alternative occupation following the next election...Though whether he would be deemed an appropriate candidate for the catholic priesthood given the steady steam of smear stories around outrageous expense claims and other alleged misbehaviour that have appeared in the media since his defection is another issue...

Monday, 28 November 2011

Anglican Ordinariate developments...

The Australian reports today that Archbishop Hepworth has been told he can only re-enter the Church as a layman.

Not entirely surprising news, for reasons I've previously explained.

Sympathetic as I and everyone else is to what happened to the Archbishop, a priest who abandons his ministry - no matter the reasons - and defects to another ecclesial community is always going to find it very difficult indeed to persuade the Vatican that he should be returned to ministry.  Maybe it could happen in some circumstances, but someone in an irregular marriage and who wants to remain so? Let alone aspiring to a continuing leadership role in the Church.

Media strategy?

What is surprising though is that the story was apparently given to selected media (there is no generally available press release as yet on the outcomes of the Bishops' conference meeting, or on Ordinariate developments) even though Archbishop Hepworth has apparently been given a few weeks to consider his response to this decision, and was not consulted on when to make the news public.

So I'm guessing that the liberal establishment's continuing resistance to the Ordinariate has not changed...

Bring on those new bishop appointments (and maybe consideration could be given, in the course of assorted proposed amalgamations, to moving some of our existing bishops to some new dioceses, or some very old (and empty of people) ones.  I'm thinking a new Archdiocese of the Nullabor, for example, to atone for the continuing neglect of Aboriginals for example, could solve more than one problem)!

And in the meantime, at least the US Ordinariate is moving forward fullspeed.


Joshua suggests that the story may have been liked by a third party.  There is also an interesting debate on the discernment process, with some very helpful comments in the comments box by David Schutz (which comes first, union with Roman or priestly vocation)! And for more on this issue take a look at Mr Stove's Remnant article (written just before latest developments).

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Advent I in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms: Presence, Power and a more 'Biblical' Church

Today is of course not just the start of the new liturgical year, but also the official start date of the new missal.

The new missal was officially launched at yet another closed-to-the laity meeting of the Australian Bishops' Conference Plenary last week.  The stream of feel-good but largely content-free press releases so far stands, I have to say, in stark contrast to the livestreamed video of US Bishops' Conference meetings that are the norm these days.

Personally, I think that the fluff over substance and accountability appearance at least of the bishops' conference is a symptom of a real underlying problem in the Church today that won't be solved by better translations of the texts of the Ordinary Form. 

Indeed, the readings and particularly the collect for this Advent Sunday really point to one of the necessary next stages in the reform of the reform, namely a fundamental rethink on the lectionary.

Power and presence vs a good deeds/social justice paradigm

At the recent Canberra-Goulburn Diocesan Assembly, Archbishop Mark Coleridge  made some comments on the need to move beyond seeing Jesus as merely a good example whose life we should imitate - but who implicitly at least is not really divine - and seeing Jesus as truly God, someone whose presence and power we should be conscious of, and thus worship.

It is an issue that lies behind many of the current debates within the Church I think, and is certainly relevant to a debate I'm participating in over at Cath News on Vatican moves to ensure churches actually look like churches (yes decided to give CN another whirl - so far accused of probably being an adherent of an interesting new heresy on the nature of the priesthood of the people on the one hand, and of being an SSPXer for daring to suggest reading a traditional commentary on the other, but hey, it could be worse!).

Over in that place, many seem to want to forget the foundation Our Lord insisted on of starting by keeping the commandments, including the first one about worshipping God, and instead jump straight to the counsel of perfection for individuals (though I doubt they are applying it to themselves!) and have the Church sell everything it owns, including its churches, and give it to the poor.

And the fault for this state of affairs, I want to suggest, lies in part in the texts selected for the Sunday liturgy.

A tale of two collects for Advent I

The  idea of the 'presence and power' of God is very strongly brought out in the Extraordinary Form collect for the First Sunday in Advent.  It says:

"Stir up Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come; that from the threatening dangers of our sins we may deserve to be rescued by Thy protection, and to be saved by Thy deliverance."

And the collect links neatly to the readings and propers set down for this Sunday.

By contrast, the Ordinary Form collect, despite a vastly improved translation over its previous incarnation, still has, to my mind at least, an almost Pelagian flavour, giving more emphasis to our actions than those of God:

"Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom".

Fr Z has done a nice analysis on the OF collect, which shows how it can be interpreted in a very Catholic way, and points out that the emphasis on good works stands in contrast to mainstream protestant ideas of salvation by faith alone.

Unfortunately, mainstream protestantism is not really the main threat from within the Catholic Church today.

Rather, the biggest problems are on the one had the fundamentalist Christian 'magisterium of me' approach, that leaves it to the individual to decide what teachings he or she will actually accept, and on the other, the refusal to actually worship our all-powerful God. 

Instead, many Catholics seem to favour idea that all we need to do is imitate a rather bowdlerized version of Jesus' life, such that our bishops and others appear to be preoccupied with doing 'good things' such as worrying about the treatment of Australia's Indigenous peoples or the treatment of Coptic Christians in Egypt than about addressing poor catechesis and ars celebrandi.

It is not that social justice issues are not important.  Of course they are.  But they are not the core of our faith, nor are they, on the face of it, that central to the problems currently facing the Australian Church!

A tale of two parishes and the new Missal

At the Mass I attended this Sunday, the priest said the Mass nicely, and lead the congregation in using all of the new prescribed gestures.

This stands I have to say, in stark contrast to my geographical parish, where the local Dominicans, though they say the words, can't quite seem either to bring themselves, or perhaps to remember, to bow during the Creed or strike their breasts at the Confiteor.  The effect of this and other minor seeming aspects of the ars celebrandi flow onto the congregation - almost entirely of a certain age - who mostly can't bring themselves to even try and say the new words, in between practising self-inctinction and other such abuses. 

The Congregation at St Thomas More's, by contrast, mostly managed to avoid the Tower of Babel effect (though 'And also with you' does seem to be very hard to dislodge from the brain!) and we got a good, solid sermon.  Moreover, while the choir didn't tackle the English propers - 'singing at the mass rather than singing the Mass' to steal a phrase from the Archbishop - they did pick musically attractive traditional hymns (though when I went to thank them, they told me they are currently alternating week about between real hymns and that 70s junk due to differing views within the congregation on the music front - it seems I chose the right week to come!).  The intercessory prayers even included one that we might all go to confession this Advent!

Moreover, St Thomas More's, though still suffering from its now past history as a church cum school hall, is also that rare church in Canberra which places the Tabernacle at the position of honour immediately behind the altar, instead of encouraging priestly narcissism by substituting a throne for the priest there.

All in all (and despite the girl altar server, though she was very young indeed and paired up with an equally young boy), it was a Mass that really showed the difference that the new texts can make when combined with proper attention to the celebration.

But the contrast between the two parishes I think illustrates that good translations alone won't won't solve the deeper problem of the perversion of some basic tenets of the catholic theology of worship: both after all do actually nominally at least use the new Missal.

How do we effect change?

I haven't said much about the recent Diocesan Assembly mentioned above here in part because I'm still trying to absorb its paradoxes and challenges.

On the one hand, it was an extremely well-organised, well managed, and engaging day.

The tone was set by an introductory speech by Archbishop Coleridge which had enough in it to appeal to those at all ends of the spectrum of belief (I know because I liked it, but so too did a lady at morning tea told me all about her horror at a Mass she had stumbled on at the cathedral said by the Nuncio, that actually had the several ministers dressed up in elaborate vestments denoting that they were deacons etc.  How terrible!).

Some useful thoughts and suggestions seemed to come out of it, and at the very least it started, perhaps, a process of engagement for necessary change.

But on the other hand, the 'liturgy' that started the day was lay-led (despite the presence of numerous priests plus a bishop or two!) and involved a lot of guitar-twanging second-rate made up songs (admittedly the guitar-twanger had a nice voice, but still...), interspersed with some uncontextualised chunks of Scripture.

Heresy flourishes...

And in the course of the day I was exposed to a concentrated dose of just about every current popular heresy and distortion of faith and practise going from some very passionate advocates of error indeed. All in all, that was pretty depressing, and didn't quite make up for the positives!

The most recurrent problem was indeed the rejection of the idea of worship, and the idea that God actually sets some limits on us.  The discussion, in my group at least, on whether and how to reclaim Sundays, for example, largely focused on how to make it a family day, not how to get people to see it as a day of worship.  And when I tried to probe behind some of the ideas being advocated, it became clear that it was all built on a highly selective knowledge of Scripture that edits out all the 'hard sayings' and creatively reinterprets what remains through a modernist lens that views miracles as merely symbolic.

That's not surprising.  Where once repetition ensured that a core of readings were known by all Catholics, the three year calendar ensures that almost nothing sticks in mind. Most modern Scripture commentaries advocate outright error.  And those errors are regurgitated to us in weekly sermons...

Where once priests had to say the psalms every week, now it is spread out over four,  Worse, the Liturgy of the Hours edits out some of the psalms altogether, and many of the verses of others because they don't fit the 'modern mind', thus undermining the continuing catechesis of priests.

We need indeed to become 'a more biblical Church'  - that is one that doesn't simply discard those parts of Scripture that don't happen to accord with the modern mindset, and that interprets that Scripture in the light of the Tradition, not just in the light of our own preferences and prejudices.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Lay-led communion service displaces Sunday Mass: why lay-led communion services should be banned!

I've been alerted by a reader to a particularly outrageous abuse of the use of lay-led communion services in the Ballarat diocese. 

Apparently, next Sunday parishioners of St Michael and John's Parish, Horsham, are being urged to abandon their Sunday morning Mass (with a priest) in favour of attending what seems to be a communion service (without a priest) at a Church in Dimboola as an 'Outreach Celebration' organised by a (lay-led) 'Pastoral Care Group'.

Shouldn't it be the reverse, with a  special effort being made by Dimboola parishioners to get to somewhere there actually is a real Mass on?!

Sacrifice vs sacrament: why communion services are no substitute for the Mass

Communion services have been permitted, even encouraged across Australia for communities unable to have a regular Mass.  But they are always, it seems to me, very problematic.

Communion services serve to undermine the importance of the sacrifice of the Mass, as the Ballarat case exactly illustrates.

We are not required to receive communion each week. 

But we are required to attend Mass if at all possible. 

Why is that?

It is because at the Mass, the priest draws together all of our own sacrifices and prayers, and together with his own, offers them up through and with Christ's sacrifice, for the good of those present, any particular purposes of the mass, for our priests and bishops, the dead and for the whole world. 

By participating in the Mass we are doing something immediately, not just for ourselves, but for others.

And that is why it can never be acceptable to decide not to go to Mass but to go to a communion service instead.

So let's just hope that all those Horsham parishioners are going to go to the Vigil Mass on Saturday night before heading off on Sunday to Dimboola (yeah right!).

A source of grace or damnation?

But there are other reasons to worry about lay-led communion services.

First, they put an excessive emphasis on the reception of the sacrament. 

Reception of holy communion can of course be a source of union with Christ, grace, and forgiveness of venial sins for the individual, and more.  Eventually that will help others around us as well.

But only if we are in a state of grace, and if we have the proper dispositions.  

In the absence of a priest available for confession, the neglect of this sacrament by most Catholics today, and widespread lack of belief in the Real Presence, just how likely is this to be occurring? 

I suspect it is far more likely that most participants in such services are in fact bringing judgment on themselves (1 Cor 11) rather than grace to themselves and others.

A celebration of self and congregationalism: the Canberra-Goulburn Diocesan Assembly as a case in point

The biggest problem with these services though, is that in my observation, they tend to become narcissistic celebrations of self run by a clericalized liberal clique pushing the congregationalist (protestant view that priests are unnecessary) heresy.

At the recent Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese Assembly for example, the issue of communion services in the absence of a priest came up in the small group I participated in, raised by an older lady from the country. 

Her concern was that when they had been introduced in her area, a number of families had ended up dropping out from the Church. 

At first, she said, those who didn't like the idea of communion services had taken to driving long distances to whichever town in the area had a scheduled Mass.  

Eventually though, the effort involved had proved too much, and they had just dropped out of the Church altogether. 

Accordingly, she was worried about proposals to extend the use of such services.

But the reaction in the discussion group to her concerns was sad.  One person (an older male from the city) fairly aggressively attempted to squash any discussion of the downside of such services, and instead wanted to talk about how we didn't need priests at all anyway, and argued that communion services were clearly a step in the right direction.  

Another man tried to badger the woman into saying that the numbers involved were small (but can we afford to lose any souls?!). 

And when I suggested that the Archbishop's proposals to rationalise the number of Masses in Canberra could allow some priests to be freed up to be based in the country and reduce the need for such services, I was greeted with bemusement.  Nor did my suggestion that communities celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours instead gain any traction (not surprising really - even if any of them knew what it was, I doubt they had ever actually had a chance to actually attend Vespers or any other of the hours)!

In the end, the person writing down the record of our discussion and reporting back to the wider group, as far as I could tell (hard to read upside down), simply omitted to mention the issue in his notes or summary of the discussion at all. 

Unsurprisingly, in the wider group report backs, another person lauded the value of such services in forming "community" .  Well maybe.  But the community being formed, in my view, is not a catholic one.

Are there alternatives?

So what should be done in the absence of a priest?

The first point is clearly that if such services are in place (and a rethink really is needed on this) such services should never be used without good, ongoing catechesis of all involved.

They also need to be supervised so far as possible by (orthodox) priests, as well as their bishops.  How could the parish priest concerned by allowing the Dimboola event to be promoted in the parish bulletin for example? 

One creative suggestion from the Canberra-Goulburn Assembly was to have livestreaming of the Mass in Churches without a priest from the regional centre that had one each week instead. 

It doesn't completely solve the problem of course, since people still aren't actually participating in the Mass.  But it does mean that the community can have a 'missa sicca' (dry mass), a very traditional devotion, rather than an entirely fabricated liturgy, actually said by a priest instead of promoting lay-led alternatives.

Another alternative though, would surely be to encourage local communities to say some of the Liturgy of the Hours (perhaps the Office of Readings) on Sundays when no priest was available.  That way they would be participating in genuine liturgy that is closely linked to the Mass, and that really involves all of those present. 

It would require training and catechesis of course.  But so too, clearly, do the alternatives.

And if people found themselves missing the Mass and reception of the Eucharist that might not be an altogether bad thing.

Perhaps they could be encouraged to channel this longing into holding Adoration in their otherwise empty Churches, making them genuine centres of prayer to attract new parishioners rather than empty palaces. 

Perhaps they could pray for vocations, and encourage young men in their communities to consider priestly vocations - instead of trying to become pseudo-priests themselves.

Perhaps they could be encouraged to carpool or hire a bus and head together for some place there is a Mass on a regular basis.

Perhaps they could encourage special events to be held in their church - in consultation with the nominal parish priest, invite priests from a religious order or secular institute to run a mission for them, or organise pilgrimages that come with their own priests to visit their often very attractive churches to see what real church architecture should look like?

There are better alternatives....

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Feast of Christ the King (OF edition): on really separating the sheep from the goats!

Today is either the last Sunday after Pentecost (if you are following the Extraordinary Form calendar), or the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe (if you are following the Ordinary Form calendar).

And the reasons behind the selection of the two sets of texts are perhaps worth reflecting on, since they illustrate some of the inherent problems of the modern calendar, and just why the improved Missal, while a good start, is not enough 'reform of the reform'!

In the traditional calendar, the last Sunday of the year is devoted to dire warnings about the end times: the Gospel is Matthew 24:13-25, which speaks of the coming of the 'Abomination' prophesied in the book of Daniel.  One of the key messages is that even believers will go through tough times at the end, being at risk of being led astray by false Christs and more.

The OF Feast of Christ the King, by contrast has at its centre the final judgment, with Christ separating the sheep from the goats (St Matthew 25:31-46).  At first glance, they might seem to have a similar focus.  But in fact, I think the take out message is quite different.  In the context of a rather upbeat focus on Christ's kingship, the listener can perhaps readily decide that they are one of the sheep not the goats - after all, they can surely point to at least some of the good works to their credit listed in the Gospel. 

Worse, the Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17) actually skips over the couple of verses talking about bringing the elect out of the peoples amongst whom they have been scattered (interesting to note that the protestant denominations who follow the more or less unified lectionary actually use the text in full, and add a few more verses on this subject besides!).

And the EF emphasis on not being led astray by false prophets or, to use words from elsewhere, wolves in sheep's clothing, disappears altogether.

Indeed, though the OF feast of Christ the King uses many of the same propers as the EF (though of course these are rarely actually used), this year at least it actually substitutes a quite different Gospel.  The feast as it was established in the twentieth century uses St John 18:33-37, Christ before Pilate.  It reminds us amongst other things, of the suffering and sacrifice that is a necessary prelude to the realization of the kingdom.

Instead, the 1970 revamp of the feast leaves us with a positivelyy triumphalist reinterpretation of the feast.  The Gradual for the feast, for example, actually emphasizes all the kings and nations worshipping God (Psalm 71).  The usually substituted responsorial psalm however is the Lord is my shepherd, with its happy conclusion on all the blessings God confers on us.  Instead of stressing the work still to be done in evangelizing both ourselves and others, the subtext is, we can all rest secure.

Some more reform of the reform please!

Christ in Judgement, c1300 Florence
Jean and Alexander Heart Divinity Library
Vanderbilt University

Friday, 18 November 2011

The death of (legitimate) debate: what has happened to The Record?

One of the sadder features of modern Church life is the suppression of legitimate debate, while at the same time giving free reign to illegitimate dissent from Church teaching and decision-making.

And on this front, I've been debating for some time saying something about the demise of the online presence of The Record, Perth's diocesan newspaper. 

The Record

The Record had, once upon a time, a very vigorous online presence, updated weekly.

Through its medium we were able to access the excellent thoroughly orthodox, thoroughly practical advice of Father Flader for example, on questions like whether or not there are people in hell.   We were able to read the excellent columns of Anthony Barich on issues of Catholic interest from across Australia and beyond.

Alas no more.

Mr Barich apparently ceased working for The Record in May this year.

And the Record's online edition, after a few splutters, has not been updated since September.

What happened in May: a casualty of the Morris affair?

I have emailed both The Record and Mr Barich for an explanation, but received no response.

So one can only speculate.

But what happened back in May?  

Could this all be due to that editorial and reporting on the Morris dismissal?

Pretty sad that articles which actually defended the Pope's decision seem to have led to the effective demise of the Record online at least, and departure of some of its key reporters. 

Some liberals did argue at the time that it is inappropriate for anyone to deviate from the line agreed by the Bishops Conference.  That's nonsense of course - Bishops Conference statements have no magisterial force beyond what any individual bishop wishes to give them in their own diocese.  And anyway, a journalist's article, even an editorial in a diocesan newspaper is not the same thing as a Pastoral Statement by a bishop!

But even if it were the case, how then can liberals justify the fact that Toowoomba Diocese website continues to feature Bishop Morris' attack on the most recent statement of the Australian bishops on the subject?  Talk about a double standard.

Official websites, diocesan newspapers and opinion

It is true of course, that official websites of dioceses, their newspapers and such like outlets do need to take particular care in the line they tread.   Few of them do of course; most, including the Canberra-Goulburn Voice for example, regularly promote at best dodgy modernist theology. 

But there is no reason, it seems to me, why they shouldn't in principle at least, have some editorial independence from their bishops, provided they stay within the bounds of orthodoxy and propriety.  And it is hard to see how an article defending the Pope, no matter how robust, could be seen as crossing this line.

Our bishops should be defending those who speak out for the Church, not penalising and suppressing them, even if they don't happen to agree with what is written.

What ever the reasons for the Record's demise, it is very sad. 

Particularly sad that this should have occurred in the archdiocese of one of Australia's better - albeit soon to retire - bishops.

But perhaps that just illustrates the depths to which the Australian Church has fallen.

We need real debate

There has, over the last year, been a marked decline in the extent of debate within the Church - Sentire Cum Ecclesia blogger David for example, has said on his blog that he was avoiding comment on the Morris issue and other sensitive debates 'on instructions'.   But do priests and laymen working in the Church have no right to have opinions - and state them on a private blog?

The hard reality is that those who stand up for orthodoxy and orthopraxis; those who pursue their canonical rights as laypeople to enjoy the patrimony of the Church continue to be denounced as 'temple police' and 'Taliban catholics' and the like. 

While those who advocate heresy and dissent are constantly lauded on Cath News, Eureka Street, and other such quasi-official outlets.

Of course, there is nothing new in all of this - consider the case of Blessed John Newman, shortlived editor of The Rambler, which fell foul of the English bishops in the nineteenth century for the crime of standing up for the rights of the laity...

Now what was all that Vatican II nonsense about the role of the laity?!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Archbishop Bathersby's resignation

The news is just officially out (though of course the Courier Mail seems to have either breached the embargo or been given the story in advance by "other" sources) that the Pope has accepted Archbishop Bathersby of Brisbane's resignation on reaching the age limit.

Interestingly, Bishop Jarrett of Lismore has been appointed Apostolic Administrator.

Presumably the idea is for him to take a year or two to start the much needed clean up process (Bishop Jarrett would have been an obvious candidate for the vacancy, but he is already 74 himself so presumably hoping to retire in the not too distant future!) in order to make things easier for the eventual permanent appointee.

Some interesting messages in all both for Queensland hopefuls and the more ambitious amongst our existing bishops hoping for a move...

That makes two out of the five Queensland dioceses officially vacant (with at least one more rumoured to be...).
And of course, this is only one of the several vacancies coming up.

Monday, 7 November 2011

New monk film coming soon....

Here is the trailer for a film on the Benedictine monastery of Norcia, Italy.

This wonderful monastery, based at the site of the birthplace of SS Benedict and Scholastica (and now a centre of the black truffle trade!), was founded by a group of American monks ten yers ago. 

The monks sing the traditional Office, and use both EF and OF forms of the Mass (in Latin).  They also put up webcasts of their daily EF mass, Lauds and Vespers on the net for you to follow along with...

The film was made over (European) summer this year, and is due out in December...

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Youth 'ministry': is this really where the Church should be spending its scarce dollars?

The Australian Bishops Conference announced last week that it is offering a number of scholarships, valued up to $10,000, for Broken Bay's Catholic Youth Ministry and Campus Ministry Certificate.  And it is apparently sponsoring a national congress on Youth Ministry.

Youth 'ministry'  has certainly been a huge growth industry in most dioceses in recent years.  But is it a sensible investment? Is a professional lay youth ministry worth encouraging?

In my view, the answer is no.

The problem of 'yuf' ministry

One of the premises of the 70s era was that youth needed to be treated differently from everyone else.  And the introduction of pop music into Masses and  fake forms of 'active participation' appeals still to the ageing hippies of a certain generation (albeit not the one they are supposed to be aimed at!), hence the appalling school masses and such like events that continue to turn young people away from the Church in droves.

But while young people do have special needs - such as to help discern their vocation, and learn how to make a difference as a Christian in the workplaces they are entering -  it is not at all evident that many of the programs increasingly being directed at them are particularly effective in keeping young people within the Church and supporting them in their spiritual journey.

Why we should think twice about youth ministry

It seems to me that there are a number of issues around youth ministry and its professionalisation.

Firstly, is it really a good idea to professionalize activity in this area outside the priesthood?

And not unrelated to this, what happens to the 'youth ministers' when they become too old to perform this ministry?

Does the existence of professional or semi-professional youth ministers actually result in more young people believing in and practicing their faith and actively participating in their parishes? 

And even if it does, is it the best way of increasing the direct the engagement of young people in the Church, or are there other ways the money could be better spent?

Finally, do the programs set up for the formation of youth ministers actually give them a solid knowledge of their faith?

The problem of youth 'ministry'

Youth ministry is, as far as I can tell, essentially a protestant concept that the catholic church is copying rather after the fad has largely faded.  In the protestant context, in the absence of priests and religious, it makes some sense.  In the catholic, rather less so in my view.

First, rather encouraging substitutes for the genuine ministerial role of priests, wouldn't we really be better off spending the money on promoting vocations to religious life and the priesthood and give them any necessary education to do the ministering?  Vocations among young people are rising in the dioceses that are actually putting the effort in and promoting orthodoxy, so its not obvious that this is a gap that needs to be filled by lay substitutes.

More importantly, the lay vocation is primarily in the world, not in 'ministry' within the Church, as Blessed Pope John Paul II pointed out in Christi fideles laici.   We should be educating young people to transform the world, not encouraging them to become church bureaucrats.

And what happens to ageing youth ministers? 

Efficiency and effectiveness

The really key issue is whether spending scarce dollars this way is really the most effective way of achieving the desired outcomes. 

There obviously is a need to engage young people, help them discern their vocations, find suitable spouses, equip them to participate as good Christians in their family, working and social life, and help them be active and effective members of their parish.

There is nothing wrong at all with running at least some specific programs to this end.

There are some good programs around now targeting young people, such as Theology in the Pub and so forth.

But has anyone done any actual systematic evaluation of what works best in the long run?

Would we, for example, be better to put the money into cleaning up school RE programs, and putting in place measures to ensure catholic schools actually turn out catholics!

Would we be better off supporting events and programs that will by their nature tend to attract young people, but in a way that keep them integrated into the broader Church community? The annual traditionalist Christus Rex Pilgrimage is a good example of the kind of thing I mean.

Personally, I'd like to see initiatives that actually focus on promoting the lay vocation in the world, helping young people to see how they can contribute, and equipping them to work for the conversion of the world through their family, work and social life. 

The Australian Christian Lobby's public policy internship program is a good example of the kind of thing I think the Church should be doing in a wide variety of professions.

What do youth ministers need to know?

But the biggest problem of all with these kind of courses is just what they teach the aspiring youth ministers! 

If the course was about providing a solid grounding in the Catechism and introductory theology, it might have something going for it.  If it was about giving potential youth workers some genuine educational skills in how to teach young adults, that could be helpful.

But instead, according to the blurb from the Broken Bay Institute, the course is filled with units teaching things like "current findings on Generations Y and Z", "stages of faith", the nature of youth ministry and how best to engage young people.  Is this yet another case of professionalizing something that really doesn't need to be?

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Anglican Ordinariate developments....***

Things appear to be moving forward at last on the Australian Anglican Ordinariate front, with Adelaide Now reporting that some 31 Traditional Anglican Communion priests were "recently approved for ordination back into the Catholic Church after high-level meetings at the Vatican".

I'm taking that to mean that their reception as Catholics and ordination as Catholic priests has been given approval - and perhaps even a definite timeline - following discussions at the recent Ad Limina visit to Rome.

Let's hope for an announcement on this shortly...

The Hepworth Case***see update at end

The actual media report is largely about some rather puzzling developments in the case of the Traditional Anglican Communion Primate (and former Catholic priest), Archbishop Hepworth.

A few days ago came the news that Archbishop Hepworth had entered a process of mediation with the Adelaide Archdiocese, mediated by Fr John Fleming (NB, to access the story, search for 'Talks pave way back for rape priest 'in the Australian via Google - you can bypass the Oz's paywall for up to five stories that way).

That struck me as a rather curious choice given that Fr Fleming is himself in the position of Msgr Dempsey, the subject of public allegations of abuse (and he arguably suffered serious consequences as a result, losing his job as President of Campion College, notwithstanding his intact reputation as a defender of orthodoxy.  Though he has since been returned to ministry).  But there are some key differences in the two cases as well, not least being that in Fr Fleming's case, the accusations were not made under parliamentary privilege and the resulting defamation case he launched in response is still ongoing as far as I can gather.

In any case, Adelaide Now reports that AB Hepworth has offered to drop the case against Msgr Dempsey. 

What he wants in return, according to the Advertiser report is for the diocese to accept the Melbourne Report that he was abused in the seminary, and that this is what caused him to leave the church; help to resolve his situation with the Vatican; and an acknowledgement that his accusations against Msgr Dempsey were made "in good faith".

But given that the accusations are now in the public domain, they surely need to be adjudicated on and decided one way or another in fairness to Msgr Dempsey?

The story also suggests that he has no faith in the diocesan process that has been set up to look into the case because he has not been told the terms of reference or ground rules.  If this is the case, it is yet another sad indictment on what has been a pretty sorry process.

One way or another, it is all very strange...

***Monday's Australian carries a report with Archbishop Hepworth denying that he had offered to drop the case.  It says that as far as he is concerned the situation is still a stalemate, as, although the Archdiocese has hired a QC to run a process (and claims that it has started), Archbishop Hepworth is refusing to participate on the basis that he objects to the person selected and he has been given insufficient information on the process.  He is quoted as saying that there is no good faith involved. The report also states that AB Hepworth proposed a mediation process, but it appears not to have been accepted by Archbishop Wilson.  For the full story, google (to avoid the Oz's paywall) "Archbishop Hepworth denies move to drop abuse claim".

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Celebrating a century of liturgical wreckovation: the case of Pope St Pius X

One of the greatest problems with the traditionalist movement, in my view, is its tendency to latch onto some particular practice or period, claim it for 'tradition', and defend its priority over all competing positions for reasons of sentiment rather than logic. 

Rorate Caeli's's current series defending Pope St Pius X's reform of the Roman Breviary is such a case in my view.

Pope St Pius X's liturgical revolution

Many traditionalists (and catholics more broadly) will be unaware that Pope St Pius X was a liturgical reformer on a scale unprecedented until Pope Paul VI. 

Other Popes have certainly made their mark on the liturgy: Pope St Pius V and Pope Pius XII for example, both made significant changes to rubrics and practices of the Office and Mass. Their aims at least, whatever the ultimate reality, were relatively modest, namely seeking to standardize, restore and protect the integrity of the liturgy.

Not so Pope St Pius X.  

Amongst many other reforms, he not only changed the rubrics of the Roman Office drastically, but entirely dumped the ancient ordering of the psalter in favour of an entirely new one. 

He reversed the traditional order of reception of the sacraments and lowered the age of first communion. 

He made significant reforms to Church music.

And he reversed the long tradition of the Church when it came to the frequency of reception of communion.

I'm not saying that all of the changes he made were bad: the rubrical changes to the Office of 1911 in particular had a lot of merit, and the other measures he took were pastoral responses to the pressures of the time.  Others, such as the ordering of reception of the sacraments, are now being reversed.  Others still have had unforeseen consequences - in particular, encouraging frequent communion to counter Jansenism may have made sense when the sacrament of confession was still practised, now it just leads to mass sacrilege.

Regardless of their individual merits or otherwise though, his programme surely constituted a liturgical revolution, and, as many such as the late Professor Dobszay (Note: PDF) have eloquently argued, they set a precedent for the post-Vatican II wholesale junking of the existing form of the Mass and Divine Office and their replacement by something altogether new.

If it had been any other Pope...

In this light, there is a certain irony in the traditionalist Society adopting him as their patron saint. 

But of course, Pope St Pius X is also a hero of the anti-modernist fight, and as a result, some find it necessary all of his legacy, not just those components of it that have stood the test of time.

Take Rorate's defense of his breviary reforms.  There clearly was a problem with the rubrics of the Roman Office before 1911 and the accretion of prayers, feasts and other elements that made it a real burden on priests.  But there were other ways these problems could have been addressed than a wholesale reordering of the psalter.

Indeed, so hard is it to find fans of Pope St Pius X's reforms that Rorate has had to resort to giving space to a sedevacentist priest for the task!

The problem with the 1911 psalter

In the end the proof is in the fruits of the Reform, and the bad fruits therein have been drawn out at length by a number of recent studies. 

Far from making priests comfortable with a shorter Office, it led to pressure to shorten it even further, hence the modern Liturgy of the Hours. 

Far from providing a coherent framework for the passage of the day, most priests I know who say the 'traditional' Office (in reality the 1911 Office updated by the 1962 rubrical changes) treat it as something to be gotten through as quickly as possible.

The original form of the Roman Office offered priests a combination of solid meat, particularly in the relatively long hour of Matins; and familiarity, with day hours that could be memorized in the form of that extended meditation on the law, in Psalm 118 said each day.  It had a Lauds that reminded of the reality of sin and the necessity both of repentance, in the form of the daily recitation of Psalm 50, and of the importance of hope and joy, in the Laudate psalms (Psalm 148-150).  And it followed the monastic Office in keeping Compline fixed each day, a quiet wind down to sleep.  It had a clear internal logic.

Changing all of things has had, in my view, serious spiritual and psychological effects, as I've suggested in my own series comparing various Office psalm schemas.

Pope Pius X's reforms made the Office shorter. 

But most find few other virtues in it.

Time for some reform of the reforms?

I'm not one of those who advocate reform of the 1962 Mass, despite some of the obvious problems with it, any time soon.

But I do think there is a good case for tossing out both the 1962 and 1970 Roman breviaries right now and doing a thorough reboot. 

And in the meantime, the Benedictine Office, which retains the psalm ordering set by the saint some 1600 years or so ago (and was itself a reform of the original Roman Office), with rubrics of 1962, provides, in my view, a far superior, and certainly genuinely traditional, alternative to the Roman...

The positive side of the Rorate series, I suppose, is that it shows that even the hardest of hardline traditionalists apparently accept that some liturgical reform is possible, even desirable, at times...

All Souls Day

C15th, funeral procession
Master of Rohan manuscript of Office of the dead