Sunday, 1 January 2012

Looking forward to a year of grace. Where are we up to?

I mentioned on Friday that I thought it might be helpful to do a bit of a round-up of the state of play in the Church across Australia. 

I won't look at every diocese in the same level of detail over the next few weeks, but will try to put together what I can with your help, so do keep sending in your comments on or offline.

I'll start the series with a look at my own diocese, Canberra-Goulburn, then move onto those that I have received comments on first....

What needs to be done?

But first let me set out what I'll be looking for in each diocese.

In Pentecost our bishops will be launching a Year of Grace for Australia.

The issue I want to focus on is, what do we the laity want to come out of this?  What do we want to see change?

And what are the barriers or boosts that may be at hand.

 Let me offer some introductory comments to get you thinking.

They will not, I think, be uncontroversial, so do drop a note in the comments box to agree or disagree!
And I'm hoping the agenda and critique I offer below might prompt readers to share some good news stories as well....

The breakdown in the diocese of Toowoomba was essentially about the unity of individual dioceses with the successor of Peter. The lesson to be drawn, though, is not just that individual bishops cannot simply ignore Rome's rules.

Rather, it points to the need for every diocese, every parish, and every community to get behind the behind the Holy Father and the positive agenda he has been promoting.

That means, I think, an agenda based around:
  • recovery of good liturgy;
  • promotion of sound catechesis that emphasizes the sense of continuity of the Church;
  • genuine commitment to re-evangelization and mission; 
  • recovery of catholic culture; 
  • promotion of orthodoxy and orthopraxis.
 To that agenda I'd add two other items: 
  • working for greater transparency and accountability at every level in the Church so as to genuinely engage and gain the support of the laity in its mission; and
  •  promoting the proper role of the laity in the public square rather than ministry!
 Looking back

2011 was, shall we say, a rather mixed year.  On the plus side, decisive action was finally taken to fix one of the festering sores in the Church in the form of the Toowoomba diocese.  On the negative side, the reactions to that action didn't exactly inspire confidence. 

Then there was the sorry handling of the sad and terrible Hepworth case...

And in traddie land, this was not, as far as I can ascertain, exactly a year of expansion. 

Petitions to make available the Extraordinary Form were famously knocked back by now Bishop Wright first in his parish and subsequently in Newcastle where devotees of the traditional liturgy now have to make to do with a once a month on Tuesday mass! 

Nationally the traditionalist movement seems mostly mired in personality conflicts, with most individual communities solving the problem by doing their best to ignore each other and staying mostly in maintenance mode (or even contracting).  But do tell me if there is some positive news somewhere!

 Recovery of good liturgy

We have to start with the liturgy - it is after all, supposed to be the source and summit of our spiritual lives.

Too often though, it is something to be endured rather than embraced, and certainly not a source of attraction to lapsed catholics or would-be converts.

In the Ordinary Form, a big step forward was made last year with the new translation of the Missal, in which both Australians Archbishop Coleridge of Canberra-Goulburn (as Chairman of the ICEL Roman Missal Committee) and Cardinal Pell (as Chair of the Vox Clara Committee) played integral roles.

But of course, a good translation by itself is not enough in itself.

First, there is still some way to go on implementation - partly it is a matter of the learning curve; partly of persuading a hard core of recalcitrant priests and laity to actually learn the words and do the gestures.

More though, we need a greater focus on the music used at Mass - dumping those terrible 70s numbers and the recovery of at least the minimum repertoire of chant such as at least one version of the Ordinary (Kyrie etc) that Pope Paul VI considered every parish should be know, as set out in Jubilate Deo

There is another simple step that would go a long way to helping recover the liturgical tradition of the Church in the Ordinary Form - namely dumping those responsorial psalms and instead using the actual propers (gradual etc) in either English or Latin.

The biggest issue though, in my view, is the recovery of the ars celebrandi.  Too many priests have been taught to make mass as casual as possible rather than promoting a sense of the sacred.

Traditionalists are failing our Church on the liturgy!

And this is one area where our traditionalist priests and communities are, in my view, failing the wider catholic community.

Endless posts by priests on the experience of saying an EF mass make it clear that the fastest way to engender a sense of the sacred in the Ordinary Form is for a priest to learn the Extraordinary Form and thus become connected to the tradition of the Church.

So where are the training courses for priests that are put on in other countries?  Where are the lessons offered in the seminaries?  Where is the work to publicise the local Latin mass and encourage people to try it out? Where are the big special event masses that give ordinary catholics a chance to see what it is all about?

There have been a few such events over the last year of course - the Cardinal Burke Mass in Sydney; the engagement of A Country Priest in the annual Ballarat to Bendigo pilgrimage in particular.  But we need a lot more of this.

It is not that a bit of outreach will necessarily increase the size of traditionalist communities - some may join up, but most probably won't. 

No, the reason for such outreach activities, in my view, is to open people's eyes to what liturgy truly is and help promote a greater sense of reverence in every parish, where the majority of practising catholics are.

Of course this requires a change of mindset: a rejection of purism and acceptance that incrementalism may be necessary on the part of traddies; and receptiveness on the part of bishops and priests.  Hmm, this will certainly require a lot of grace indeed on all sides!

Sound catechesis/orthodoxy and orthopraxis

This sounds like an obvious one. 

Yet the latest resource for schools, Together At One Altar perpetuates the sad old 'spirit of Vatican II' line that before Vatican II the laity were excluded from the laity, viva la revolution!  It utterly fails to teach about the Eucharist as sacrifice as well as sacrament, or to promote any real understanding of the Real Presence.

And when it comes to that biggest weekly catechesis opportunity, viz the Sunday sermon, too many priests seem to operate on the basis of the kind of rationalisations offered recently by Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ on why they fail to teach the faith.  

Many more regularly preach outright error.

None of this will be easy to turn around.  It requires a commitment to serious re-education of priests, religious and laity alike to promote orthodoxy and orthopraxis.

A good start would be to focus on promoting the reading of actual Scripture (as opposed to versions of what people think it says or should say!) put firmly in the context of the Tradition.


The third challenge, namely converting Australia, is equally daunting.

Many of our bishops still seem to embrace the old mode of 'spirit of Vatican II' ecumenism which doesn't see the necessity of actual conversions.  It is this mentality that promotes ecumenism and multiculturalism at the expense of mission; has done its best to stymie the establishment of the Ordinariate; and refuses to even try and reach out to SSPX priests in the same way we do to Anglicans and others...

Unfortunately, Australia lacks one of the most basic building blocks to promote mission, namely a vibrant young contemplative monastery or two, and that doesn't look like changing any time soon...

 Transparency and accountability/the role of the laity

One of the sadder outcomes of the 'spirit of Vatican II' in my opinion, is the diversion of the laity from their proper role of transforming the world and thus bringing it to Christ, in favour of 'ministry'.

Personally, I regard this as something of a clericalist plot!

Part of the problem has been the collapse, indeed the deliberate destruction of the structures whereby the laity and religious actually did influence what happened within the Church before Vatican II. 

The collapse of religious orders, combined with the suppression of the guilds and other lay organisations in particular has led to an unprecedented concentration of power in the hands of many bishops without many of the checks and balances that previously existed.

And attention to this phenomenon was diverted by an emphasis on greater lay roles in the liturgy itself. 

Instead of focusing on the substance of what is happening both within the Church and the wider world, the laity have been encouraged to think that what matters is visibility in the actual Church building - hence the promotion of the plethora of Extraordinary Ministers and the like, promotion of lay ministry and other such diversions.

The result has been that instead of priests and bishops focusing on equipping the laity for their proper role, they seem to think they have to do it all themselves, with a never ending stream of press releases and speeches on issues on which they mostly lack the necessary expertise, judgment and training.

What can be done?  This problem is certainly not solved by appointing laypeople to the Church bureaucracy - this mostly just results in the individuals concerned being co-opted, rather than genuinely engaging the wider catholic community.

But there are ways of promoting genuine and appropriate lay engagement being tried around the world and in Australia, and we should experiment a little in this area.

More soon, in the meantime, and do send in your comments about your own community/parish/diocese....


Maureen said...

Thriving, jam-packed Traditional Latin Mass in Brisbane - not a personality conflict in sight!

Jim said...

"Unfortunately, Australia lacks one of the most basic building blocks to promote mission, namely a vibrant young contemplative monastery or two, and that doesn't look like changing any time soon..."

Kate, perhaps your suffering an 'inside the beltway' mentality there in the nation's capital (just like all those wonks at treasury who are busily destroying the last remnant of Australian manufacturing - sorry for the diversion).
The Carmel at Launceston has a number of young women and live a strict enclosure and pray constantly for The Church in Tasmania and across the nation, as well as for the conversion of the nation.

Kate said...

Good to hear Jim and Maureen, we need to publicise the good news stories not least to encourage those of living in places where there isn't much good news!

And its true that like the treasury wonks I don't get out much, though my excuse is a combination of poverty and commitment to an anchoritic lifestyle!

How large is the Carmel and how many younger nuns? I was aware that they are one of the better Carmles around, but not that they had lots of vocations. Have to say I read Joshua of Psallite Sapienter's accounts of some of the priestly antics they are subjected to with some horror...

Joshua said...

The nuns at Carmel are wonderful - my family has trusted with great confidence in their prayers over the years; and their prayers work. Certainly they have the patience of saints to put up with one idle priest who says Mass there once a week, but I suppose when one's vocation includes praying and making sacrifices for priests, to endure a bad one would spur one on to storm heaven...

The Carmel of Launceston, like all Carmels, is not large (I suppose there would be about 14 nuns or so), but has a number of young nuns (I attended the solemn profession of one of them only recently) - after a drought of nearly twenty years, they have had a half-dozen or so vocations in the past decade or so, which is extremely good really, especially as all have persevered. One of them is now Mother Prioress!

Kate said...

Thanks Joshua - would that we had such communities in every diocese across Australia!

I do realise I was exaggerating slightly on contemplative communities - there are actually a few who are doing well, such as the Tyburns.

But given the size of the problem I think we need a veritable army of much women (and men) not a mere handful.

And ideally a few committed to the traditional Office at least, and preferably mass...