Monday, July 30, 2007

The Spirit, the Eucharist, and the Church (Part 2 of Talks on Sacramentum Caritatis--i.e., Pope Benedict & the Eucharist)

At the end of the last session, we tried to guess where the pope might take us—recall, he talked about the inner life and love of the Trinity, the Father sending the Son, the Son’s climactic act of salvation—the "Paschal Mystery"—and now we move to the Spirit.

Since we’re talking about the Eucharist—meaning both the sacrament per se and the Mass—what might we expect to look at, or hear about, next? (Of course, you may have already read the next section, so you know!)

The Work of the Holy Spirit

As we saw, the pope has made clear in talking about the Eucharist, he’s talking just as much about how it is celebrated—i.e., the Mass—as he is the sacrament itself. So, as he begins to talk about the Spirit, notice what he says right away:

With his word and with the elements of bread and wine, the Lord himself has given us the essentials of this new worship. The Church, his Bride, is called to celebrate the eucharistic banquet daily in his memory. She thus makes the redeeming sacrifice of her Bridegroom a part of human history and makes it sacramentally present in every culture. This great mystery is celebrated in the liturgical forms which the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, develops in time and space. We need a renewed awareness of the decisive role played by the Holy Spirit in the evolution of the liturgical form and the deepening understanding of the sacred mysteries (12, emphasis added).

This move by the pope may surprise us—he leaps, as it were, over all the things we expect him to say about the work of the Holy Spirit, right to something that seems pretty mundane: how the Church carries out her liturgy! He is going to say more about that in the second section of his letter, so we can wait till we get there to look closer at that; and when we do, I’ll share some other writings by the pope that may help fill out his thought here. But for now, note he is, as it were, planting his flag: the celebration of the liturgy is all about cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit, through "the evolution of the liturgical form."

Next, the holy father goes where we expected, talking about

The Paraclete, Christ's first gift to those who believe, already at work in Creation (cf. Gen 1:2), is fully present throughout the life of the incarnate Word: Jesus Christ is conceived by the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 1:18; Lk 1:35); at the beginning of his public mission, on the banks of the Jordan, he sees the Spirit descend upon him in the form of a dove (cf. Mt 3:16 and parallels); he acts, speaks and rejoices in the Spirit (cf. Lk 10:21), and he can offer himself in the Spirit (cf. Heb 9:14). In the so-called "farewell discourse" reported by John, Jesus clearly relates the gift of his life in the paschal mystery to the gift of the Spirit to his own (cf. Jn 16:7). Once risen, bearing in his flesh the signs of the passion, he can pour out the Spirit upon them (cf. Jn 20:22), making them sharers in his own mission (cf. Jn 20:21).

The Spirit would then teach the disciples all things and bring to their remembrance all that Christ had said (cf. Jn 14:26), since it falls to him, as the Spirit of truth (cf. Jn 15:26), to guide the disciples into all truth (cf. Jn 16:13). In the account in Acts, the Spirit descends on the Apostles gathered in prayer with Mary on the day of Pentecost (cf. 2:1-4) and stirs them to undertake the mission of proclaiming the Good News to all peoples. Thus it is through the working of the Spirit that Christ himself continues to be present and active in his Church, starting with her vital center which is the Eucharist (Ibid., emphasis added).

Then the pope comes back to "The Holy Spirit and the eucharistic celebration": "Against this backdrop we can understand the decisive role played by the Holy Spirit in the eucharistic celebration, particularly with regard to transubstantiation" (13). Benedict goes on to cite many of the early Church Fathers on this subject.

But we might wonder why he chooses to emphasize this?

I think his point is to emphasize the action of all Three Divine Persons in the Mass.

When we participate in the Mass, we address so many of our prayers to the Father, and we hear, and the priest repeats, the words and actions of the Son. We sometimes lose sight of the equally strong presence—perhaps not so obvious—of the Holy Spirit.

So, for example, we often emphasize how the bread and wine become Jesus through the words of the Son, spoken by—and through—the priest; but here the pope is making clear the Spirit is every bit as active—and while it may seem obvious, we remember: you can’t have this miracle of Christ becoming present in the Mass without the action of the Holy Spirit—which, by the way, parallels his Incarnation…and really, every moment of Jesus’ ministry, on earth and now in heaven.

In this context, there’s also a really image of the Holy Spirit’s action in relation to the Eucharist, we might think about.

Recall some of the principal images or symbols of the Spirit: among other, you have water and fire. Now think of the matter of the Eucharist—at least, of the bread: wheat, grains, right? The bread we use for Mass, how do you make it? Take wheat, make flour, combine it with…water…and you bake it, which requires…heat—fire!

Here’s a copy of a great, but simple hymn, let’s try it together, and listen especially for the last lines:

Father we thank Thee who has planted
Thy holy name within our hearts.
Knowledge and faith and life immortal
Jesus The Son to us imparts.

Thou, Lord, didst make all for Thy pleasure,
Didst give man food for all his days,
Giving in Christ the bread eternal;
Thine is the power, be Thine the praise.

Watch o'er Thy Church, O Lord, in mercy,
Save it from evil, guard it still,
Perfect it in Thy love, unite it,
Cleansed and conformed unto Thy will.

As grain, once scattered on the hillsides,
Was in the broken bread made one,
So from all lands Thy Church be gathered
Into Thy kingdom by Thy Son.

That happens to come from the Didache, which is a document summarizing Catholic belief, from the first century, perhaps as early as AD 40-60! Now that’s old school!

The point is, it is the Holy Spirit who takes the "grain, once scattered on the hillside" and in the broken bread, makes it one"—meaning both the Eucharist, and? The Church.

The Church

We saw how the pope’s thoughts track with our Creed. As you may have noticed in the Creed, right after we profess our faith in the Spirit, we immediately shift to the Church. The pope does the same in this letter. In this last section of part one, he talks about the life of the Church, the Church through history, the sacraments, and the eternal destiny of the Church. Last he talks about the Virgin Mary.

One of the captions in this exhortation is a striking statement: "The Eucharist, causal principle of the Church" (14). Let’s look at some of what he says.

Through the sacrament of the Eucharist Jesus draws the faithful into his "hour;" he shows us the bond that he willed to establish between himself and us, between his own person and the Church. Indeed, in the sacrifice of the Cross, Christ gave birth to the Church as his Bride and his body. The Fathers of the Church often meditated on the relationship between Eve's coming forth from the side of Adam as he slept (cf. Gen 2:21-23) and the coming forth of the new Eve, the Church, from the open side of Christ sleeping in death: from Christ's pierced side, John recounts, there came forth blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34), the symbol of the sacraments. (SC 14).

Think of that! The Eucharist—our celebration of the Mass, and our sharing of his Body and Blood, takes us right to that "moment," that "hour," in which we, as part of his Bride, are born "from the open side of Christ, sleeping in death."

This reminds us of the inexpressible intimacy of Eucharistic communion, and also the inseparable relationship between Eucharistic communion, and ecclesial communion. This, of course, raises all sorts of delicate questions, but this is where we understand why the Church handles this subject as she does: i.e., why can’t everyone share the Eucharist with us? Why is it that even some Catholics can’t?

The pope himself raises this subject here; but before we look at what he said, note something he says first, that may be even more startling:

The Eucharist is thus constitutive of the Church's being and activity. This is why Christian antiquity used the same words, Corpus Christi, to designate Christ's body born of the Virgin Mary, his eucharistic body and his ecclesial body. This clear datum of the tradition helps us to appreciate the inseparability of Christ and the Church (15, emphasis added).

He goes on to repeat what St. Thomas Aquinas taught: the "res"—i.e., the "thing" or purpose of the Eucharist "is the unity of the faithful within ecclesial communion" (Ibid.).
So, here and later, he will talk about how a lack of true ecclesial communion makes eucharistic communion inauthentic—i.e., those in mortal sin (20-21), for those who are in marriages that contradict Christ’s teaching (29), and for those in public office who, on matters of grave importance, take a stance directly contrary to Church teaching (83). Pertaining to other Christians, his point rather is that, in the absence of ecclesial communion, eucharistic communion is premature (15).

The Eucharist and the other Sacraments

We might find some surprising things here:

1. Confirmation. One might be the question of the order in which we receive the sacraments of initiation—baptism, confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. Many may be surprised that the western—that is, the Roman—Church celebrates these sacraments not only at variance with the tradition of the East, but of the origin of these sacraments. I.e., the traditional order, from the early Church, is baptism/confirmation/ Eucharist, which the East preserves but in the West, we only some of the time observe this order.

The pope concedes: "Yet these variations are not properly of the dogmatic order, but are pastoral in character" (18). So why even raise the point? The pope answered that in the prior paragraph:

As the Synod Fathers said, we need to ask ourselves whether in our Christian communities the close link between Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist is sufficiently recognized. It must never be forgotten that our reception of Baptism and Confirmation is ordered to the Eucharist. Accordingly, our pastoral practice should reflect a more unitary understanding of the process of Christian initiation.

When confirmation does not follow right after baptism, its connection to baptism (in the early Church, and still with adult converts, confirmation came immediately after baptism) is obscure; likewise, the implication of the order we’re used to—baptism/Eucharist/ confirmation—is that the goal is confirmation; and in fact, that is what a lot of folks think, that achieving confirmation is a kind of religious "graduation." But note what the pope said: the Eucharist is, properly, our "graduation," our "end state" as far as "full initiation" is concerned.

So the pope makes his first, specific request: "Bishops' Conferences should examine the effectiveness of current approaches to Christian initiation" (18). I.e., the pope is calling for a re-examination; and this could mean, some time in the future, the Latin Rite of the Church—i.e., our Roman branch—will change her practice, perhaps to move confirmation back to before first Eucharist. As it happens, some dioceses are already looking at this, and to my knowledge, nothing actually prevents a diocese, or even a parish, from doing so on their own. We should expect this to resurface, probably some years down the road.

2. Penance and Indulgences

Some bullet-points from the holy father:

· "The Synod Fathers rightly stated that a love for the Eucharist leads to a growing appreciation of the sacrament of Reconciliation" (20).
· "A balanced and sound practice of gaining indulgences, whether for oneself or for the dead, can be helpful for a renewed appreciation of the relationship between the Eucharist and Reconciliation. By this means the faithful obtain ‘remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven’" (21).
· "The use of indulgences helps us to understand that by our efforts alone we would be incapable of making reparation for the wrong we have done, and that the sins of each individual harm the whole community. Furthermore, the practice of indulgences, which involves not only the doctrine of Christ's infinite merits, but also that of the communion of the saints, reminds us ‘how closely we are united to each other in Christ ... and how the supernatural life of each can help others’" (Ibid.).

(Note: I didn't actually get to this tonight, I will cover it next week...)

3. The anointing and care for the sick

· "If the Eucharist shows how Christ's sufferings and death have been transformed into love, the Anointing of the Sick, for its part, unites the sick with Christ's self-offering for the salvation of all, so that they too, within the mystery of the communion of saints, can participate in the redemption of the world" (22).
· In this context, the pope reminds us that the most important "Last Rite" is Viaticum—i.e., the Eucharist (Viaticum means "food on the way."); "its administration should be readily provided for" (Ibid.). So, for example, we train laypersons to bring the Eucharist to the sick; and while it’s not well known, we can and will bring the Precious Blood to the sick, although this requires advance planning, since the Blood of Christ is not normally reserved like the Body of Christ. Still—this makes it possible for those who are very ill, and perhaps can’t swallow, or are minimally responsive, to receive the Eucharist in their last days.

4. Holy Orders

Again, some "bullet points":

· "The intrinsic relationship between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Holy Orders clearly emerges from Jesus' own words in the Upper Room: ‘Do this in memory of me’ (Lk 22:19). On the night before he died, Jesus instituted the Eucharist and at the same time established the priesthood of the New Covenant" (23).
· "…[W]e need to stress once again that the connection between Holy Orders and the Eucharist is seen most clearly at Mass, when the Bishop or priest presides in the person of Christ the Head" (Ibid., emphasis original).

· "…[P]riests should be conscious of the fact that in their ministry they must never put themselves or their personal opinions in first place, but Jesus Christ" (Ibid.).
· "This is seen particularly in his humility in leading the liturgical assembly, in obedience to the rite, uniting himself to it in mind and heart, and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality" (Ibid.).
· "It is not sufficient to understand priestly celibacy in purely functional terms. Celibacy is really a special way of conforming oneself to Christ's own way of life. This choice has first and foremost a nuptial meaning; it is a profound identification with the heart of Christ the Bridegroom who gives his life for his Bride" (24, emphasis added).
· About vocations: "Families should generously embrace the gift of life and bring up their children to be open to doing God's will. In a word, they must have the courage to set before young people the radical decision to follow Christ, showing them how deeply rewarding it is" (25).

5. Regarding Marriage: "The Eucharist, a nuptial sacrament" (27).

· "Pope John Paul II frequently spoke of the nuptial character of the Eucharist and its special relationship with the sacrament of Matrimony: ‘The Eucharist is the sacrament of our redemption. It is the sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride’ (Ibid.).
· "By the power of the sacrament, the marriage bond is intrinsically linked to the eucharistic unity of Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church (cf. Eph 5:31-32)" (Ibid.).
· "The mutual consent that husband and wife exchange in Christ, which establishes them as a community of life and love, also has a eucharistic dimension. Indeed, in the theology of Saint Paul, conjugal love is a sacramental sign of Christ's love for his Church, a love culminating in the Cross, the expression of his ‘marriage’ with humanity and at the same time the origin and heart of the Eucharist" (Ibid.).
· "The indissoluble, exclusive and faithful bond uniting Christ and the Church, which finds sacramental expression in the Eucharist, corresponds to the basic anthropological fact that man is meant to be definitively united to one woman and vice versa (cf. Gen 2:24, Mt 19:5)" (28).

The Eucharist and our destiny

The concluding paragraphs of this first section touch on "eschatology" and also on the Virgin Mary; these might seem unrelated, but they really aren’t.

"Eschatology" is the theology of our final end or destiny—often we refer to the "Last Things": death, judgment, hell and heaven. In this context, we think especially of those who have gone before us, and pray for them; and we think of the final judgment, and our resurrection—God willing, to eternal life.

This is really important to keep us from mainly seeing the Mass as a "backward" glance, to the saving events of the Lord’s time on earth. The Mass just as much is about a "forward" glance, to the completion of the salvation of humanity and this world.

But we can also understand eschatology as not just about last things, but ultimate things; in that sense, the eschaton—final reality—is always present and can "break into" our world at any moment. This is true of all the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and the Mass. Really, this is what sacraments do—they are means whereby the eternal, the life of God—in a word, grace—"break into" our ordinary world. "[E]specially in the liturgy of the Eucharist, they [i.e., the sacraments] give us a real foretaste of the eschatological fulfillment for which every human being and all creation are destined (cf. Rom 8:19ff.)" (30). "Even though we remain ‘aliens and exiles’ in this world (1 Pet 2:11), through faith we already share in the fullness of risen life. The eucharistic banquet, by disclosing its powerful eschatological dimension, comes to the aid of our freedom as we continue our journey" (Ibid.).

In this context, the pope reminds us to pray for the dead—who, when we realize the Mass transcends time and space, aren’t really absent from us, but are truly present, particularly in the Mass. Indeed, the pope says that Christ has already " inaugurated the eschatological age" (31)—we already belong to the "age to come" even if we don’t fully see it!

So why mention the Blessed Mother at just this point?

"From the relationship between the Eucharist and the individual sacraments, and from the eschatological significance of the sacred mysteries, the overall shape of the Christian life emerges, a life called at all times to be an act of spiritual worship, a self-offering pleasing to God" (33).

Everything we’ve looked at presents a great challenge for our continuing journey; it is just at this point it helps to look ahead, and see an "icon" of this reality before our eyes: Mary!

"Mary's Assumption body and soul into heaven is for us a sign of sure hope, for it shows us, on our pilgrimage through time, the eschatological goal of which the sacrament of the Eucharist enables us even now to have a foretaste" (Ibid.)

"In Mary most holy, we also see perfectly fulfilled the ‘sacramental’ way that God comes down to meet his creatures and involves them in his saving work" (Ibid.).

As we finish up this first third of the pope’s exhortation, what questions remain?

Even though the holy father divided his letter into the categories of "believe," "celebrate" and "live"—can you see how they already overlap and connect?
Concluding this section with the Blessed Mother—what thoughts or reactions does that prompt? Do you like that idea, or not? Does it make sense?

Thinking of the Virgin Mary, what are some ways she, or her role in salvation history, seem particularly "eucharistic"?

Next week’s reading assignment: SC 34-42, as well as Scriptures cited. Handout from Spirit of the Liturgy, pages 171-77.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

This is the House of God's Mercy (Sunday homily)

The sin of the first reading—the “sin of Sodom”—
is not something we like to talk about.
But that means other voices dominate the discussion.

Some say, “who cares?”

We do insist that marriage is,
by nature, for a man and a woman.
It’s not only about the couple, it’s also about children;
so it’s not just a private arrangement,
it’s also a foundation of society.

Meanwhile, others look down on “those people.”
What some people call “morality” is really prejudice.

The most important conversation
we can ever have on this
happens when someone we know comes and tells us,
he or she is struggling with homosexual feelings.

But if people hear put-downs or harsh judgments from us,
will they even come to us in the first place?

Instead, they need to hear that they can be chaste,
and faithful to Christ—and we will help them do it!

Keep in mind what St. Paul says in his letter.
We are all sinners, equally in need of God’s mercy.
We are all dead to sin, until we are born again in baptism.

Today’s reading about the sin of Sodom
Reminds us how often we may say, at the water-cooler,
or the dinner table, or in the locker-room,
“Such-and-such is the worst sin there is.”

But before you say that, realize how many people
are already convinced that applies to them:

Women who’ve had an abortion…
Homosexual persons…
Addicts, people who fail their marriages…
Tell themselves God has no mercy left for them.

That first reading is not God’s last word on the subject!

The Cross is God’s final word!
And every day, you and I are sent by the Holy Spirit
To share that Word with everyone, everywhere:

You’re a sinner? So am I;
God has a remedy—let him nail our sin to the Cross!

The world around us has a short supply of mercy;
But God has an abundance—more than enough for you!

In baptism, you and I are immersed into that mercy;
we become members of the Church,
the household of mercy;
Here, we live because God’s mercy sustains us,
through the sacraments and the life of the Holy Spirit.

We see many problems in our parish and our community.
But really, God’s remedy—and our task—is very simple:
we have been given Faith—share that faith.
This is the house of mercy—
God sends you to fill this church
with everyone who needs mercy.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

What I do when an appointment doesn't show...

I raced back from Columbus this morning for an appointment; but the couple failed to show. Not the first time (for this couple).

So, I worked on something else: some handouts that will make it easier for folks to participate when we use Latin prayers at Mass.

I worked up two things:

An eight-page booklet that provides all the responses, with English translations, for everything except the Gloria and the Credo, which can be found in our hymnals; for the Eucharistic Prayer, I provided just the Latin text of the Roman Canon, since the English text can be found in the Missallette. I plan to run off about 50 of these, and we can have them handy.

I also took the Latin texts that we have used at Mass otherwise in English, as well as some others we are likely to attempt in years to come, and prepared a handy, half-page sheet, formatted so it could easily be pasted to the inside cover of our hymnals. Then all people have to do is flip the cover. That's pretty easy, isn't it?

(Actually, most of these prayers are already in the hymnal--yes, even the Gather Comprehensive!--a fact I point out to the surprise of those who mistakenly think Vatican II "abolished Latin." But I hope this will make it far easier to refer to them.)

Treasure Hunt in Columbus Ohio

Last night and this morning, I had a splendid visit with Father Kevin Lutz, Pastor of Holy Family Parish in Columbus, the capital of our fair state.

Father Lutz and I essentially contacted each other, for different reasons -- curious but true. I posted an item some time back, trolling the net for a used, stone baptismal font (still looking -- would like it to be marble if possible, and with a BIG bowl: email me at with offers or referrals), and someone referred me to him. It seems Father Lutz is curator of the Jubilee Museum, featuring many treasures that, unaccountably, have been cast off my the Church in recent decades. Meanwhile, Father Lutz, a reader of this blog, wanted to offer to assist me in learning how to offer Mass according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite -- i.e., the classic form of the Mass.

Well, we arranged to meet at his parish last night, he invited me to stay the night, and over the course of the visit, I participated in the classic Mass (I did not concelebrate, as there is virtually no concelebration in the old form), visited his museum -- twice! -- first just to see the treasures (and they are treasures, God bless him for rescuing so much beauty that might otherwise have been lost; and it breaks the heart to realize how much was lost), and second, to do a little "shopping." (I came back with some nice things we can immediately put to use, such a chalice veils and so forth.) We also had a nice dinner, cooked by one of the several seminarians who were passing through, and of course had good fellowship and conversation. (And somehow, amidst all that, Father managed to handle two appointments, and attend to several other matters that arose, as they always do, in an inner-city parish.)

Yesterday morning, the first reading for Mass concerned the Ten Commandments; and I pointed out in that homily that the last two commandments, concerning coveting, gave rise to the other issues of lying, theft, adultery and murder. Alas, while visiting Father Lutz's lovely church, I was sorely tempted to covet! But it is a reminder of the great possibilities that arise from vision and generosity, which of course presuppose love.

If you wish to visit Father Lutz's Jubilee Museum, you might visit the website at Holy Family; I think you can find all the information you need, there.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bible Study on Matthew

Starting this Wednesday, I will be leading our weekly Bible study in looking at the Gospel of Matthew. This comes after spending about a year, I believe, looking at the Penteteuch -- and at that, most of our attention was on Genesis, Exodus and Numbers -- i.e., the narrative portions.

I very much enjoy doing this, but I am not particularly scholarly. I can tap into other scholarly resources, but my method is to try to look closely at the text, to read the text as a continuous narrative if at all possible, to focus more on the text itself than what purports to be behind the text (i.e., where it came from, how it came to be) or "in front of" the text -- i.e., the hearer or reader.

I'm not saying those are bad things, they are matters I'll deal with as well.

Rather, I'm saying that -- in my judgment -- a lot of discussion of Scripture gets out of balance in these areas, putting the actual text secondary to suppositions and reconstructions of the text's origins.

If you suspect I am skeptical of the various theories involving multiple authors/editors of various books of the Bible, you are correct.

I readily acknowledge people who are a lot smarter than I am have studied these matters extensively, and make very knowledgeable arguments for four sources for the first five books of the Bible, for three Isaiahs, and for multiple sources to the first three Gospels. They may be right. But we don't have "Q" (the supposed, but so-far non-existent textual source behind much of the content of Matthew, Mark and Luke), but we do have the four Gospels themselves.

It certainly may be that multiple folks produced, say, Genesis. But here's the method I learned in the seminary, from Father Tim Schehr, who still teaches there, and writes commentaries on Scripture in various places, including the Catholic Telegraph (the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati). He said: try to read the text as a unity; where you find unevenness, supposed contradictions, before you say, "it's because of editing," see if you can solve the problem. Because -- if you do eliminate the "unevenness" -- then what need do you have of a theory of multiple hands, including an editor?

Here's my other argument on this theory of a text being the product of several authors, which a "redactor" (i.e., editor), stitched together. But to give my argument, I have to explain how this idea of redaction is usually introduced into a question of Scripture...

You will have a text where there seems to be some inconsistency or, as Fr. Schehr says, "unevenness." And the explanation of the multiple-hand theorists is, "ah, that's where you can see the work of the redactor -- see, this part comes from the "J" author, this from the "E" author." In the notes for the Catholic Study Bible -- for example, the note on Genesis 6:5-8:22 -- you see this frequently.

But, here's my problem.

Explaining the unevenness as the work of an editor is really no explanation at all, because all you are doing is replacing a sloppy author with a sloppy editor -- how is that an explanation? The "problem" -- the author seems to say one thing, then he seems to repeat himself, or he says something shortly thereafter that conflicts with what he said just before. Hmm, says the scholar -- the author couldn't have been so inattentive to his work...must have been multiple sources, which an editor stitched together."

Um, except that this latter editor was also inattentive, was he not? Why--in his editing, didn't he notice the very same inconsistencies which the author could never have been responsible for? Wasn't this editor at least as interested in the text as our latter-day scholars? So doesn't it seem unreasonable to suppose that this editor would fail to notice what is so obvious to the scholars?

So, in the end, you haven't really explained the unevenness at all.

Please don't read me as saying more than I am. I am not asserting, matter-of-fact, that multiple authorship did not happen in the Scriptures. It may well have.

But the idea that a "school" or "community" produced any of the books of the Bible seems very far-fetched. How often does a committee or a group produce riveting narrative? Far more likely, I think, that a single individual produced particular texts -- even if a "redactor" knit several of them together. And as I showed already, this approach explains very little to me, so it simply fails as an explanation.

Let me say one thing more, about the Gospels in particular. There is a fair amount of nonsense tossed off about the Gospels, even by people who really should know better.

The idea that each Gospel presents a very different Jesus. The idea that only John's Gospel presents a transcendant Jesus, while the others present him as very much this-world. The idea that Jesus being God is something read into the Gospels, by the Church, rather than being deeply imbedded in the warp-and-woof of the Gospels -- all four of them -- which is what I think is manifest.

What often happens with the Gospels, I'm afraid, is some people (DREs and liturgists and other "church professionals") attend a "workshop" or "seminar" on one of the Gospels, or all four of them, and they pick up some eye-catching ideas and slogans, that seems like the "big news" that "really explains everything" -- and that's pretty much all they have. I don't really blame them, because their teachers themselves may have failed to do their jobs well. And, as someone who was asked, last year, to do a one-hour talk on all three of the first three Gospels, I can attest that it's pretty hard to give an "overview," and very tempting to offer glib bromides.

So you have a lot of people running about, repeating a lot of incomplete ideas, and some outright nonsense, because that's what they were told.

They turn a question into a dogmatic assertion: "everyone knows the Apostle Matthew didn't write the Gospel of Matthew." Well, no -- we have reason to raise questions, and it's very possible that he didn't write it. But we are far from knowing that for sure. So, till we do, the simpler explanation (have you ever seen the charts representing the multiple-source theories of the origins of the Gospels?) still is very respectable.

Anyway, tonight we'll do something truly radical. We'll simply read the Gospel, and see what we can find in the text; with reference to other Scripture texts, insofar as Matthew himself taps into them.

At St. Boniface Parish, in the school, starting at 7 pm. Folks in the northern suburbs of Cincinnati can still just make it, if you leave now...

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Eucharist is the Mystery & Summary of Faith (Talk 1 on Sacramentum Caritatis)

(Reading assignment: Sacramentum Caritatis 1-11, as well as Scriptures cited in these sections. Suggested: Lumen Gentium 1-8; 9; 11, 23; 48; 58.)

Introduction and Part One of the Pope’s Exhortation

To begin our look at the Holy Father “exhortation” on the Eucharist, let’s pause to notice how he organized what he wrote, and some of the key terms he uses.

After a brief introduction, he divides his work in three parts: “a mystery to be believed,” a “mystery to be celebrated,” and a “mystery to be lived.”

Why organize it this way?

We might answer, well, why not—have to organize it some way. That’s true, but I think you’ll find, as we look closer, we can see some of Pope Benedict’s thought revealed in his choice of structure.

In his introduction, he first talks about the Eucharist as “the Food of Truth.” Then he talks about the various ways, over 2,000 years, that this mystery is celebrated in the Church. Finally, he talks about a “renewed commitment to eucharistic enthusiasm and fervor in the Church” (SC 5).

This forecasts where he’s going to go.

We need to get the truth—the doctrine—of the Eucharist right, so that the Eucharist really is “Food of Truth” to us. The point here isn’t so much truth-v-error (although that’s important, and he does correct some errors), but to use the familiar words of the courtroom oath: the truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth.

Part of the truth of the Eucharist is not only the Sacrament per se, but the celebration of the Eucharist—i.e., the Mass. (We’ll see over and over how, in referring to the Eucharist, the pope means both the sacrament, and the celebration of the sacrament, as one reality.) Benedict will have a lot to say about what is the normative way to celebrate Mass, and why we should be attentive to celebrating Mass in the right way. Again, not just about “the truth,” but also “the full truth, and nothing but the truth.”

Part Three: “a mystery to be lived”—follows naturally. If we are nourished by the truth, and if we celebrate this mystery in a “truthful” way, then we are, we might say, “pointed toward” a truthful way of life. Or, to put it another way: a true encounter with the Truth—God himself, coming to us in the Eucharist—must change us, and from that has to flow a life lived in truth.

What’s a ‘mystery’?

Notice the pope repeats the word “mystery.” By my rough count, he used the word at least 70 times! Since he emphasizes the term, let’s start with that.

We often use the word “mystery” to describe a problem to be solved. A lot of us like “mystery” movies and books, where Mrs. Marple or Columbo solves the crime.

But we mean something different with a matter of faith, where a “mystery” is a reality that extends beyond our usual way of knowing things; something we wouldn’t even know at all, unless God made it known to us. Even then, we’d never completely digest it. In the seminary, I found this explanation helpful: “a mystery is not something we can never say anything about; rather, it is something we can never say everything about.”

In Biblical Greek, it’s “musterion,” which appears 27 times in the New Testament. Most often, the “mysteries” are revealed to those who have faith: “[Jesus] said to them in reply, ‘Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted’” (Matt. 13:11, NAB ); “Similarly, deacons must be dignified, not deceitful, not addicted to drink, not greedy for sordid gain, holding fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” (1 Tim. 3:8-9).

When the New Testament was translated into Latin in the Fourth Century, do you know what Latin word was used, in at least some cases, to translate musterion? Sacramentum—which is our word, “sacrament”!

We might pause here and think about where the term “mystery” shows up in our practice of the Faith.

 Eastern Christians, who believe in the same seven sacraments, call them “the Mysteries”
 We most frequently refer to “the Paschal Mystery,” which means the coming of God in human form, his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension.
 Recall what the priest may say at the beginning of Mass, the priest says, “as we prepare the celebrate these sacred mysteries…”
 At one of the climactic moments of Mass, the priest says, “mysterium fidei!” We add, “Let us proclaim…” which takes away some of the force of the statement—which isn’t so much a response we offer, but what we just experienced!

The Eucharist summarizes our Faith

Pope Benedict says, at the beginning of part one: “The Eucharist is a ‘mystery of faith’ par excellence: ‘the sum and summary of our faith’” (SC 6). The first part of his exhortation—about the mystery to be believed, opens the door to everything we might want to know and encounter about Jesus Christ, the Divine Son who became man, suffered and died and rose to make atonement for our sins and to unite us to God—and all this and more, of course, we encounter in the Eucharist.

All this is pretty basic. We get that the pope wants us to focus on Jesus—the “mystery to be believed”—so what else does he want to say?

If you look at how the pope organized this first part, you can see the movement:

The Blessed Trinity and the Eucharist
The Eucharist: Jesus the true sacrificial Lamb
The Holy Spirit and the Eucharist

The Eucharist and the Church
The Eucharist and the Sacraments
(Then he has several sections focusing on the various sacraments)
The Eucharist and Eschatology

The Eucharist and the Virgin Mary

Now, look at the list of topics I just gave. Notice something?

What if I rephrased what the pope wrote in the following terms:
“We believe in God the Father…” “We believe in Jesus Christ…” “We believe in the Holy Spirit…” “We believe in one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church…”

You think of the Nicene Creed, we profess at Mass, don’t you? Recall how the Creed concludes: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

We can note the parallel—between the Eucharist and the Creed—in several ways.

First, just as the pope said, the Eucharist is the “summary” of our Faith—as is the Creed.

Second, did you know the other, ancient name for the Creed? Symbolon, where we get the word, “symbol.” Greek Christians still call the Creed the “Symbol”—meaning a token, with two halves, that when two people bring them together, they recognize each other.

We also sometimes call the Eucharist a “symbol,” but unfortunately, the word “symbol” is really misused in that context—people say that to diminish the Eucharist, as in: “it’s only a symbol”—so we might tense up hearing the Eucharist called a “symbol.” But in Christian theology, we often uses the term “symbol” in a much fuller sense: to mean a sign or “token” that contains and conveys the reality it signifies. Understood in that sense, we can, indeed, say the Eucharist—and all the sacraments—are “symbols.”

Just a little aside: the word sacramentum originally meant a solemn commitment, taken by oath, by Roman soldiers; later it came to refer to a mark or some other token that represented that commitment. Only later did the Church take the word, and apply it to the sacred mysteries—but knowing where the word came from, it makes sense: The sacraments—baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, et al.—are, fundamentally, about a “solemn commitment” (“the new and everlasting covenant”) God made to humanity, in Christ; they are, in a sense, “symbols” or “tokens” of that reality, except, remember, we mean that they “contain” and make present to us, that deeper reality.

Love starts in the Trinity

The pope writes, “The first element of eucharistic faith is the mystery of God himself, trinitarian love” (7). “In the Eucharist Jesus does not give us a ‘thing,’ but himself; he offers his own body and pours out his own blood. He thus gives us the totality of his life and reveals the ultimate origin of this love. He is the eternal Son, given to us by the Father.” (Ibid.).

In the Eucharist, the Divine Trinity “becomes fully a part of our human condition” (8). “God's whole life encounters us and is sacramentally shared with us. God is a perfect communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Ibid.).

This connects this exhortation—Sacramentum Caritatis—with his recent encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”): the God who is a perfect communion of love enters the world, and we have communion with him, in the Eucharist.

There it is: Mysterium Fidei!

The Triune God has come into the world he created—God became man, i.e., Jesus Christ. You can even see a certain “likeness” or parallel here: we said earlier how a sacrament—a mystery—is a kind of “breaking into” our world from God’s realm—and notice, that’s literally what happened in the Incarnation. That’s why we sometimes say Jesus—the God-Man—is the “Sacrament” of the Trinity.

We can pause here and reflect on the “first movement” of love. When we say “God is love,” that statement was always true, correct? So it was true from eternity.

So what was the very first act of God’s love toward us? Of course, it was Creation; only after humanity sinned did the next “move” of love involve Redemption—although we believe, of course, that God had that in view even before he created the Cosmos.

When I meet with couples, using ideas our late Pope John Paul gave us, I point out how their love mirrors this “communion of love” of the Trinity.

I point out: notice how God could have remained a communion of love, forever—but what did love do? It “broke out of itself,” by creating…new life, right?

How do you see that represented in your marital love? By children.

Notice this: God knew, before he created us, that we would sin; there would be trouble, and it would eventually mean he became man and suffered and died for us.

You know before you have a child, what that will involve: your children will make mistakes, cause heartache, you will have to forgive them, sacrifice for them. It’s going to be a “package deal” right?

Are you going to go ahead with it, knowing that lies ahead? You are, aren’t you?

See how your love as a couple is like that of the Blessed Trinity?

The Father Sends the Son

When the pope talks about God the Son entering the world, he again uses the word “mystery” frequently, speaking of the “mystery” of his “obedience unto death,” and above all, the “Paschal Mystery.”

So the central part—the mystery-within-the-mystery—is the Cross. The Cross is like a cross-roads, where everything comes together: God and humanity, time and eternity, the sin of Adam’s race and the radical obedience of the new Adam, the hatred of sinful man for God, and the surpassing love of God for lost humanity.

Sometimes we see people who want to focus on other parts of the Gospel—on Jesus’ teachings, or miracles. We even have some theologians who try to set aside the teaching about Jesus’ suffering and death being about atonement, making an offering for sins to redeem us.

But the pope makes clear what we’ve always believed:

In the Paschal Mystery, our deliverance from evil and death has taken place. In instituting the Eucharist, Jesus had spoken of the "new and eternal covenant" in the shedding of his blood (cf. Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20). This, the ultimate purpose of his mission, was clear from the very beginning of his public life. Indeed, when, on the banks of the Jordan, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him, he cried out: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29). (SC 9; emphasis added.)

The Cross stands at the center. It is central to the Gospel; it is the center and apex of the life of Jesus Christ, and therefore, is the heart of our Faith. The Cross is the central event of all time and history. The Cross is the axis on which the whole of the Cosmos, the whole of history, turns.

And so, of course, the Eucharist is all about the Cross.

Again, we often focus on the relationship between the Eucharist and the “Last Supper,” and that’s correct—but the “first Mass,” as it were, begins with that Supper the night before the Lord died, and continues through the offering on Calvary, to the Resurrection and to the Ascension.

Here’s what Pope Benedict wrote about that Supper:

This leads us to reflect on the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. It took place within a ritual meal commemorating the foundational event of the people of Israel: their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. This ritual meal, which called for the sacrifice of lambs (cf. Ex 12:1-28, 43-51), was a remembrance of the past, but at the same time a prophetic remembrance, the proclamation of a deliverance yet to come. The people had come to realize that their earlier liberation was not definitive, for their history continued to be marked by slavery and sin. The remembrance of their ancient liberation thus expanded to the invocation and expectation of a yet more profound, radical, universal and definitive salvation. This is the context in which Jesus introduces the newness of his gift. In the prayer of praise, the Berakah, he does not simply thank the Father for the great events of past history, but also for his own "exaltation." In instituting the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus anticipates and makes present the sacrifice of the Cross and the victory of the resurrection (SC 10).

Then the pope says something that may surprise you: “Jesus thus brings his own radical novum to the ancient Hebrew sacrificial meal. For us Christians, that meal no longer need be repeated” (11).

The Mass is not a repetition of that meal. “The remembrance of his perfect gift consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper, but in the Eucharist itself, that is, in the radical newness of Christian worship. In this way, Jesus left us the task of entering into his ‘hour.’ ‘The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation’” (Ibid.). Note that: the Eucharist—again, meaning both the sacrament and the Mass—draw us into “Jesus’ act of self-oblation”—meaning the Cross, and the offering that follows after the Cross.

What do I mean by the “offering that follows the Cross”?

Remember what our Lord said to Mary Magdalene when she saw him on that first Easter, after his resurrection? “Jesus said to her, ‘Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”’” (John 20:9-10). Forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus ascended to the Father, where he continually makes intercession for us.

We need to understand that the offering Christ made for the world is an event that escapes the boundaries of time and space. The pope says, Jesus “reveals that he himself is the true sacrificial lamb, destined in the Father's plan from the foundation of the world, as we read in The First Letter of Peter (cf. 1:18-20). By placing his gift in this context, Jesus shows the salvific meaning of his death and resurrection, a mystery which renews history and the whole cosmos” (SC 10).

The pope has some very interesting ideas and expressions here:

“The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving.” Jesus “draws us into himself.” The substantial conversion of bread and wine into his body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of “nuclear fission,” to use an image familiar to us today, which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28). (SC 11, emphasis added.)

All that is pretty overwhelming, but remember this all started with our looking at how the Eucharist brings us into the life of God who is a Trinity of Persons. So: we’ve seen, the Father sends the Son; the supreme and definitive act of the Son is radical obedience and self-offering, his suffering-death-resurrection; so the next phase is the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

Before we make the next move, to the Holy Spirit, we might pause and try to digest what we’ve already looked at.

What images or ideas from the pope’s letter are most striking to you?

What ideas or questions do they prompt?

The pope chose to title this, Sacrament of Love—from what we’ve looked at thus far, what does that convey to you? What are some things you think he is emphasizing?

And, then, we might try to guess what we’ll talk about next; what might the holy father emphasize? What might we emphasize, if we were writing this, or giving this talk?

Next session reading assignment: SC 12-33, as well as Scriptures cited.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

'Interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church' (Sunday homily)

Two weeks ago, the pope made news
I am sure you heard about.
He decided the form of the Mass—
from before Vatican II—
can continue to be celebrated widely and freely.

He also said you have the right to ask a priest
for this older form of the Mass; and—I quote the pope—
“let the pastor willingly accede to their requests…”

Now, the pope himself says that the older,
extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is not going
to replace the ordinary form we are used to.

But so you know, I will do as the holy father says:
If people request it,
we may use the classic Mass for a special occasion,
a wedding or a funeral, maybe even a weekday.

A lot of folks wonder why Pope Benedict did this.
Here’s what he said: this “is a matter of coming to
an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church.”

And nowhere is this clearer than at Mass.
The classic Mass, which nourished the Church
for most of her history, somehow became radioactive.

Then the idea of an all-new Mass sprang up:
That the Mass is a free-for-all:
you can play Broadway tunes and add made-up rituals—
and a lot of folks don’t see what’s wrong with that.

The Sacred Liturgy is not something we create;
something we do for ourselves, or even for God.

No, the liturgy is something Jesus Christ does—
through the Church—for us!

How did we get so far off track?
The pope identifies the problem in how Vatican II
is viewed as a moment of “rupture”:
out with the old, in with all-new.
This has gone so far that people commonly speak
not of one Catholic Church—
but two: pre- and post-Council.

The pope took this step to heal this rupture.
He hopes that, in time, “the two Forms of the usage
of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching.”

This “mutual enrichment” is where we’ll feel the impact.

The pope said: “What earlier generations held as sacred,
remains sacred and great for us too,
and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden
or even considered harmful.”
The pope goes on to say,
“It behooves all of us to preserve the riches
which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer,

and to give them their proper place.”

Where are those riches? They were taken away;
and yes, I have tried to bring some of it back.
Under the leadership of John Wright, our choir—
which is growing—has been learning some of it.

I’ve taken small steps to re-introduce
some Latin and chant at Mass.
Most of you haven’t said a word, other than to sing it.
And you sing it well—better than you may realize.
I have heard servers at the altar singing Sanctus,
where I never heard them singing other prayers.

Some of you have been very positive.
It may surprise some to learn that,
More than older folks, are those of you, like me,
who are too young to remember.
But you want to experience your Church’s treasures.

But there are some who do more than object—
they have claimed it is a “crisis.”

The thing about Latin, and chant, and so forth,
is not that they are “essential”—they clearly are not.
But they are so much a part of our Tradition, I wonder:

isn’t it a bit dysfunctional to reject it so angrily?

The stained-glass windows—are in no way essential.
In some ways they are impractical—they let in less light,

and they are very expensive to maintain.
Would you prefer that we removed them?

Gregorian chant goes back about 1,400 years,
and has its roots in the chants of the Temple—
which our Lord and the Apostles themselves prayed!
And yet it’s been ripped out, almost completely.

In any case, it isn’t my pet theory that Latin
should be maintained in the liturgy.
That’s what Vatican II said.
That’s what Pope Paul VI,
who implemented the Council, said.
And that’s what Pope Benedict said.

Now, it happens I agree with our holy father.
But there are some, perhaps here—and some pastors—who think he’s wrong.

Ultimately, who knows for sure? I’m not that wise.

But let me ask you: what do you want your pastor to do?
Do you really want a pastor who says,
“well, the pope has his opinion, and I have mine!”
Do you really want a pastor who says,
“I’d like to follow the Council, but I won’t,
because it will make some people unhappy.”

I really don’t believe that is what you want.

To those who disagree, I ask:
I’m not certain I’m right, I freely admit.
How certain can you be that the pope is wrong?

Pope Benedict is our teacher, our shepherd on earth.
Instead of fighting and complaining, as some will do,
Maybe we should open ourselves up to be taught by him.

He isn’t inventing anything new;
he’s only asking us to learn from what he have.

This is why we aren’t supposed to be too “creative”
with the liturgy.
We believe the Holy Spirit governs the Church.
But people are hard to work with—it takes time.

Centuries—even thousands of years.

Tradition is the accumulated effect of the Holy Spirit teaching us,

sorted through all our human frailties.
With great humility, we embrace our Tradition,
rather than casting it aside because it’s “old,”
or, “we don’t understand it.”

As your pastor, I ask that people cooperate
when all I am trying to do is follow the pope’s lead.

This doesn’t mean anything dramatic or different;
Just continue what we’ve been doing already:
Continue re-learning prayers in Latin, one at a time.
English won’t go away, relax;
But Latin should not be something alien to Catholics.

Vatican II said Gregorian chant
should have “pride of place.”
So we should use it, and over time, we’ll learn to.
Contemporary music isn’t going to disappear;
but we will strike a much better balance.

Now, some say, “you’re going back.” That’s true!
I might point out that Mass, by its nature,
Includes a lot of “going back”—to the Bible, to the Cross!

I said a moment ago we should not fight,
but learn from our holy father.
For those who want to learn more,
starting this Monday, July 23, I’m beginning
a series of six talks on what Pope Benedict
is teaching us about the Mass.

If you want to delve deeper into this topic,
please come to these talks—at St. Mary,
in the meeting room, starting at 7 pm, this Monday.
Something is happening in the life of the Church.
We can choose to be negative—or open to the Spirit.
Sarah could have said, “a baby? Oh no!”
Paul could have focused on his sufferings;
Mary and Martha could have fought;
and they’d have missed what was happening!

What’s happening is we are continuing to carry out
the reform Vatican II called for. It takes time.
And, yes, it is work. But as Vatican II pointed out,
the work of the Church belongs to all the baptized.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Saint Boniface Festival This Weekend

Y'all are invited to the 53rd annual homecoming festival at St. Boniface Parish in Piqua Ohio.

Friday: Father Caserta's famous spaghetti dinner (except with penne pasta!), 6-8 pm. Yours truly will be serving.

Saturday: Pork Tenderloin dinner; festival opens at 5 pm.

Sunday: Barbeque chicken, starting at 12:30, till they run out.

Of course, we will also have lots of music, fun and games for both children and adults, and you can meet me!

Or, if you prefer...not!

Thursday, July 19, 2007


I was thinking about hell the other night.

Does anyone like considering hell? Do you want to try to picture it? I know I don't.

It is very tempting to try to construct a final outcome to history in which hell loses its punch as it were: for example, some will suppose there really isn't a hell. That's untenable, in my judgment; Scripture is clear enough, and the Lord himself, on earth, spoke often enough about it. Thus the Tradition considers it a definite feature of the afterlife.

A less difficult path is the "hell is real but mostly empty" approach. Hell exists, and the danger of going there is real; nonetheless, one can suppose that the final outcome will be that God is so effective in his saving plan, that no one but the condemned spirits ends up there. When one argues this point, one has to deal with support from the Tradition, including Scripture; one avenue would be to say, for example, that much of what Our Incarnate Lord says is warning rather than prediction -- i.e., you will end up there, and it'll be horrible, unless (a) God's grace saves you and (b) you heed my warning -- meaning, if we manage to have options (a) and (b) work for us, we can indeed, avoid hell. Let's agree on this: we can certainly pray that this proves to be true.

Still, that will draw the response that you can't explain away everything in Scripture or the Tradition that way, and that the Lord's warnings in the Gospel seem to suppose a lot of people going to hell. (Some will cite private revelation; but I think you cannot use private revelation to prove any particular theological point; the matter should be proven from the public Deposit of Faith -- i.e., what God has revealed to all, via Scripture and Tradition as interpreted by the Church.)

So, even if you are hopeful, as we might all be so long as we don't absolve ourselves of trying to save people from hell, you have to concede the possibility that the more pessimistic folks are right: a lot of people may end up going to hell.

That is the vision we don't like to contemplate. Human beings, suffering unimaginably in hell...forever. Let's not be glib about it, it is a difficult doctrine.

However, the alternative isn't easy either. Do choices and decisions have consequences?

I thought of this as I contemplated the drift of our society. I alternate between optimism that God's grace will triumph, and what seems pointed toward evil will be turned toward good to the surprise of all, and pessimism that our technology has found even more ways to assault our basic humanity.

My particular reflection considered the trends in "virtual reality." When "Star Trek: the Next Generation" supposed a "holideck" where you could have a virtual experience of reality indistinguishable from actual reality, the pessimist in me considered what that would really be like: and I quickly concluded that it would be easy enough for people to become addicted to something like that, and live a good deal of their lives in such a world--a world of their own creating, remember--indeed, one might even arrange to live entirely in that world.

Now, lest you think that is too fantastic, I can tell you the trends in game technology seem pointed in that direction. It is already possible to immerse oneself in very impressive, life-like games, and become addictive, and more is surely possible.

Contemplating that, I thought: what a fine way to send people to hell! One of the irritating things about real life is that we trip over the consequences of sin pretty often. We risk exposure; people don't like when we lie, we can go to jail for certain behaviors, and so forth. But what if you could "live" in a world where none of those things was true? Oh, "happy" day, eh? As insulated as you can be from anything that would call you back to truth and goodness.

Another consideration came to mind: why be pessimistic? All God has to do, to save hell-bound souls, is to give them a last chance. And without presuming on God's grace, by assuming he will do that, it is true that he can do that, and that would, indeed, be an opportunity for salvation. It is a happy thought that God will do so for each and every determined sinner, to catch them up to heaven at the last moment. Were I God, I'd want to do that . . .

Ah, but consider this:

Sinner: "What? Huh? What's that? Who are you?"
Jesus: "I'm Jesus. You will die within moments. This moment of clarity is given to all, as a last chance."
Sinner: "What, you're saying I could go to heaven?"
Jesus: "Absolutely. All you have to do is accept the offer.
Sinner: "Wow, this is unbelievable. I see it all now, in an instant..."
Jesus: "Repent and believe and be saved."
Sinner: "Yes, but..."
Jesus: "But what? It's heaven or hell. You see all clearly now."
Sinner: "Yes I do. And I like what I like! I don't want heaven!"

You see, in this life, we don't just choose sinful things; the things we choose shape who we are -- we are, with our choices, in the process of becoming. I don't mean to say a sinner, so enlightened by the Lord, cannot or will not repent and believe; but I do mean to say that it seems very reasonable to me that the sinner won't want to -- in that moment when God's grace enables him to make a truly free choice, his choice can still be...sin, because that is who he has become.

C.S. Lewis expressed this idea rather well, several places: Screwtape Letters, his Science Fiction Trilogy, and above all, The Great Divorce.

No, I don't particularly like considering hell. I have no solution to the problem, other than to refer to what Our Lord taught us, including to pray and work for the salvation of souls; and to remember that He does so infinitely more than we do.

Gives new meaning to the prayer in the Rosary: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell; lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of they mercy."

Not enough spicy content here...

My friend Victor at Rightwing Film Geek (listed to your right), discovered his blog is rated "NC-17" by Mingle2


Vic explains: "According to Mingle, this is because of the following words and the number of usages: death (20x); sex (18x); gay (10x); abortion (9x); dead (4x); crap (3x); porn (2x); hurt (1x).

Meanwhile, I got an embarrassing "G" rating.

So apparently I need to write more about death, sex, being gay, or not being gay, or abortion, which is death, because it makes people dead, and that hurts, and its crappy, but what about porn? Porn is pretty crappy, but not as crappy as death and abortion, and porn certainly makes sex crappy, if you understand what sex is really about? Sex is about life, not death; gay really means happy, it isn't about sex at all, and I'm trying to find a way to shoehorn more use of "abortion," "dead" and "death" in here, but I'm running out of ideas.

Let's see, that ought to get me at least an "R," don't you think? (Death sex abortion sex crap gay sex dead gay abortion death.)

Update: about a minute after posting this, I re-tested my site at Mingle--and now I rate an:


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sacramentum Caritatis Talks Begin Monday

Remember, I begin a series of talks on Pope Benedict and the Mass starting Monday, 7 pm, at St. Mary Parish in Piqua -- Meeting Room 1, enter from North Street.

Homily Wednesday

Wednesday morning is when I try to prepare my homily for Sunday.

Sometimes the time gets crunched by other duties; sometimes, the task needs more time than a morning. Today was one of those.

I'm preparing a homily following up the pope's decision two weeks ago, permitting wide use of the Mass according to the classic form, i.e., the 1962 Missal. But this, in combination with his letter several months ago on the Eucharist, and his call for re-appraising Vatican II not as "rupture" with the past, but as continuity with the Tradition, in my judgment gives greater significance to his hope that the two forms of the Roman Rite (old and new) will "mutually enrich each other."

So I'll preach at all Masses this weekend on this theme.

Unless something else comes up, who knows? That's the plan, at any rate--I just finished the draft of the homily; later this week, if time allows, I'll try to add some polish and tighten it up if possible.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Went to a movie: Transformers

Haven't been to a movie in awhile, thought I'd see something escapist: Transformers or Harry Potter?

Opted for Transformers, on the expectation of lots of Armageddon; and it delivers that. However, I should have realized this is more of a kids' film.

Sorry to say, it had a few things in it that I found inappropriate for a kids' film -- some sexual references that could easily have been left out, and would make me not want to bring pre-teen kids.

Special effects were great; but nowadays, that's becoming old hat -- which makes me kinda feel sorry for the special effects folks in the movie industry.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

It's no mystery--it's just hard (Sunday homily)

A lot of times we say that what God asks to do and to be,

is too mysterious, too hard to understand.
But most of that time, we know what God asks of us.
Most of the time, we also understand why he asks it.

We don’t need any explanation of the Ten Commandments—

they make sense.

There are some issues where we don’t see the reason.
For example, we all know a lot of people don’t see
Why it should matter to God
that a couple uses contraception.
Why should God care?

Well, there are reasons:
Marriage is an icon of God, who is a Trinity,
and is always life-giving.
God never holds any part of himself back.

Because marriage is a sacrament—it reveals Christ,
who completely emptied himself on the Cross.
Nothing held back.

There are reasons, but we may not find them convincing.

Now, may I pose this question?
Is it written somewhere
that God owes it to us to convince us?

See my point?
Maybe the fact that on some things,
we don’t fully see it—that doesn’t really change anything.

My brother got me on that once.
He said to me: “well, if it’s all reasonable and logical,
to be a Christian,
to follow every commandment—where’s the faith?”

Even so, many times, there is no mystery.

No mystery in the Gospel today.
What Jesus asks is very clear.

You don't even have to cross the road. Just stay on the path given you.
And it doesn’t matter if it is your family,
Or someone else’s; another American, or a faraway land.

It’s all the same.

Stay on your path, no matter how hard.

Some things God asks are mysteries.
But more than we may want to admit,
it is just too hard.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Post for the Feeneyites

Every once in a while, a Feeneyite (click on "Feeneyite" there to learn more. If you don't like the link, you can actually help fix it, there) shows up. They are a curious flavor of Catholic (setting aside the question of schism that may arise in some cases); they seem like fine folks -- and I am sure they are -- but let their favorite bug-a-boo come up, the meaning of the true statement, "no salvation outside the Church," and many of them become utterly intolerable.

I am speaking, of course, of how I've encountered them online.

One recently showed up to comment on the "Apologize here" post a few days ago, and behaved so rudely that I showed him the door. He is welcome to come back, if he behaves courteously; but I don't have time for that nonsense, and besides, it's just very poor manners to behave that way when you are a guest at someone else's "place," even if it is a cyber "place."

Feeneyites love to wrangle over this question of salvation "outside" the Church. This is a subject that quickly becomes a sink-hole. I hesitate to post this, because I really don't want to go down into it.

So, fair warning -- I'm going to "set it and (mostly) forget it."

Here is a very quick expression of Catholic understanding on this subject: It is true that all who are ultimately saved will be members of the Church. It is normally true that to be saved, one must be a member of the Church here on earth. However, while God certainly works through the Church, and it is true that we, his creatures, are bound to observe his commandments and ways; it does not thereby follow that God himself is bound by the same things! I.e., God himself can and does give grace and work in people's lives, "outside" the Church.

I put quotes around "outside" because you may well say, and really should say, that this work of God is only "outside" the Church from our point of view. All this saving work is the saving work of Christ, no matter what, and since the Church is united with him, you can't really separate the grace of Christ, acting in mysterious ways in the lives of non-Catholics and even non-Christians, from the Body of Christ, the Church.

So, here on earth, our vision is limited, and we see divisions, and we even see people who somehow manifest grace in their lives yet do not become part of the Church. (The Council of Trent, for example, asserted that no one can live a life of sustained virtue without the help of grace. So, what do you make of very virtuous people who otherwise reject Christianity or even any belief in God? I'm not saying they will be saved; but I am saying, there is some grace at work in their lives.)

We can speculate all we want about how people can be saved outside the Church, outside of Christ -- "outside" being only from our viewpoint -- because in fact, if they are saved, they will be saved in, with and through Christ; and therefore, in, with and through the Church. In heaven, there is only one Bride of Christ.

Somewhere, between here and there, God does these things. I would further argue that we dare not presume on God's grace, by saying -- "so it doesn't matter?" -- but we also must not be fundamentalistic about this; we have to acknowledge there is some mystery about the matter.

Now, as I say, that was only a "quick and dirty" explanation, and folks will want to pick it apart.

This is juicy red meat for Feeneyites; perhaps I am being unfair to tempt them this way, but if they behave well, I don't mind if they comment and disagree, as long as they behave.

That said, I will say this: the teaching of the Church is more or less what I've expressed. Anyone can consult the latest Catechism on the subject and see that what I'm saying is consistent with it.

(Hint: denouncing popes or magisterial documents since a particular date is behaving badly. We do not dispute the validity of the popes here since, I dunno, the "Great Western Schism." And we do not dispute the authority of their teachings, their Catechisms. We do not dispute the authority of Vatican II. There are other places for that. So -- you may not like what Vatican II, or the current Catechism, says on a subject; but they are sufficient evidence, on their face, of what the Church teaches, or at least allows as a Catholic understanding of a subject; and if you take a more cramped view, you accept a heavy burden of proof by your own choice.)

Well, this may be a mistake, but have at it. And don't expect me to get in the sink hole, that just doesn't appeal to me.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Apologize Here

By the way...

There have been certain folks (you know who you are!) who have been rather harsh toward our holy father, really shamefully so in some cases, because he didn't issue thundering mandates and excommunications right after his first Mass as pope.

You have carped about him, accused him of terrible things, because he didn't do enough, act fast enough, and claimed he never believed anything he said about his concern for the liturgy.

As the discussion of a decree freeing the old form of Mass went along, and nothing came out, you said it would never happen, again citing all the accusations against the character of our pope.

When the exhortation came out recently about the Mass (Sacramentum Caritatis), you went into full-howl, because the absence of lightning bolts and dictates was "betrayal." No other possible reading could be considered.

Now, consider that the decree regarding the old form of Mass has come; and note, it is better (from your point of view) than expected in many ways: there is no minimum number of the faithful who may request it, it seemingly only calls for a plural, so that sounds like two; the priest is completely free to offer the old Mass "privately" -- only the people can attend! And the instructions to priests and bishops is, accommodate these requests; and it actually says, if you don't, the people can appeal to Rome.

What about the reform of the new form of Mass? Well, the pope provided for that, in a way that -- if you are really right about the old form of Mass -- makes all the sense in the world. He's proposing the celebration of the old form of Mass as the main means for bringing good things to the predominant, new form of the Mass. Wait, didn't you say all along how powerful, how awesomely superior the old Mass is? Just set it free, and see what happens? The people will flock to it? Do you mean, you weren't sincere in those claims?

Because the pope's actions presuppose that's true--or, at least, if they are true, then it will work.

So now you are invited to use the comments to apologize for all the bile and dark accusations against the pope, and so forth. Three words will suffice, and you can remain anonymous: "I was wrong."

If you wish to continue sniping at the pope for -- I dunno, he has miserably failed to dig up the corpse of Paul VI and put it on trial or something -- well, take that elsewhere; it will be deleted completely.

Continuing to digest the 'Old Mass' Motu Proprio

I might well have other things I might do on my day away from parish business, but I am giving a lot of thought to what the Holy Father's recent decision, regarding the use of the "Old Mass," means for the near and long term.

A lot of people who are getting all panicky, really, calm down, won't you please? No, you won't? Okay, I tried.

No, it's not going to mean that anytime soon, you will show up for Mass and "it'll all be different."

But yes, it may mean that sometime down the road, some places, there will be scheduled, either at new times, or as part of the current schedule of Masses, the Mass according to the old -- and what the pope now calls the "extraordinary" -- form of the Roman Rite.

And (here is the speculative part, clearly) I believe it means that way, way down the road -- I mean over many years and decades -- we will all see the celebration of the Mass, in its ongoing, "normal" form, will gradually shift. It will regain at least some Latin, and in some cases, significant amounts of Latin. Chant will return (it already was returning; and it never went away, even if you haven't heard it for awhile). For lack of a better way to talk about it, there will be a reconsideration of the "ethos" or mindest or "spirit" of the liturgy -- because beyond the details (English or Latin? Haugen or Palestrina? Stand or kneel?), there is the question of the overall approach, or feel, of the liturgy.

Oh, here goes the panic again! There some folks go screaming from the keyboard. Come back when you feel better, okay? Let's continue...

Is Mass horizontal or vertical? I mean -- is it about us, the community, or is it about an upward, outward, orientation toward God, toward the mystery of Christ's work of salvation, and toward a final, everlasting moment of perfect salvation and blessing in the Kingdom to come?

Of course, it is about both--but what's the balance? Both in theory, and in actual experience?

I can't go on about all the implications of this, but my point is, please stop focusing on the details. I really don't get why a string of Latin words sends some people into orbit. The reason I think Latin has any importance at all is because it is so much a part of who we are. It is so intertwined with where we have been, and how we came to where we are, that I think we need to turn and challenge those who insist on a refusal -- and that is what we're talking about, a dig-in-your-heels, adolescent, tempter-tantrum throwing refusal -- to deal with that. When a child throws himself down on the floor in a crying tantrum, you realize it isn't about white bread vs. wheat, but about something going in that child. Even moreso when it is adults.

And the same applies to every other detail at issue here. Birettas, cassocks, loud voice, soft voice, this style of music, or that, which way the priest stands or holds his hands. There are people who are throwing tantrums about this, or they are about to. Even bishops -- a bishop in Italy went into full Cassandra mode: oh, it is to weep, to weep! Really, a bishop ought to know better. Either that bishop is rather a lightweight, or he's selfishly and irresponsibly playing to the crowd, as it were. Either way, bishop, grow up and be a bishop. If God wanted you to be pope . . . but, huh!--he didn't!

Okay, let's get right to it: and all I can do, for some folks, is insist they read the following statement slowly and let each word sink in: This is not in any way contrary to Vatican II.

Whoops--too fast! Go read it again! S-l-o-o-o-o-w-l-y !

Now, I know: you're saying, "but, what about...? and, what about...?" I know you can think of any number of things you think this undoes, that were "from Vatican II."

Let me explain. Again, maybe read this very slowly: While what's happening (from the pope, and from the Church in general in recent years) is not in any way contrary to the actual teaching and content of Vatican II, it is, in fact, calling into question what many, many people think -- and were told -- Vatican II was about.

So, welcome to a period in which a lot of us are going to discover we were misinformed about Vatican II. Either someone flatly told us wrong, or -- to be fair -- maybe we relied on bad information. Remember, while some may have acted with bad intention, many more acted with good intention, but made honest mistakes. Got carried away. Also, many priests, back then, had to explain a lot in a hurry, so maybe how they explained things, then, could have been better.

But the past is past; what is here, now, is that we are called to ask the question anew: just what did Vatican II say, teach, call for? What shall we do to be faithful to Vatican II?

I am sorry, I genuinely am, that some people have invested themselves in their own vision of how things ought to be, that they are going to fight like wounded animals to defend their position. It's going to happen. People are going to lash out at priests who are faithful to the pope's mandate -- I've seen it happen here in Piqua already, over the most modest changes. (I consider praying one prayer in Latin a modest change. Some consider it a cataclysm.)

Some will say the pope shouldn't have done this. That could be. I think there are some excellent reasons for him to do it, and his own explanation is very strong. Read it yourself. Go to this site for both documents, the actual motu propriu as well as an accompanying letter explaining his actions. On the other hand, you will hear many say why he shouldn't have. If you want to have that debate, well, okay, let's get some beer and pretzels, and have at it.

...But all that doesn't change the fact that the pope has done this. As faithful Catholics, we all are called to listen to the voice of the one chosen by providence as Vicar of Christ, successor to Peter. No, that doesn't mean he couldn't have goofed on this one -- this is not a question of infallibility. But it is a question of his role to govern the Church. So we obey, even if it might have been otherwise, just as we obey any number of civil laws that might have been otherwise, had we been the one making the laws. But we aren't, are we?

So the choice is, shall we go where Peter is leading us, or not?

One must reasonably concede that the pope could be, in effect, mistaken: that where he thinks the liturgy must go, and will with his guidance, is neither where it will go, or where it needs to go. If that be so, then this project of his will, in time, fade. Such things have happened in the life of the Church. That, I think is the argument of those who -- I am not going to slap labels on folks -- are essentially against this move. And, not being a visionary, for all I know, they may be correct.

Those of you who agree with that -- now that you have luxuriated in your indignation -- please consider this question:

What if the pope is right?

I mean, no, he's not infallible in this judgment -- but neither, certainly, are you. (Some people seem to have an "anti-infallibility" theory: instead of the pope teaching without error, they are certain that's all he teaches! Sorry to say, I mean Catholics.)

So, will we follow Peter?

To wrap up by getting back to something more tangible, here's what I think "following Peter" seems to call for in all this:

1. Stop being so certain about what you think Vatican II said, and with Pope Benedict and others, be taught anew. Meet the Council afresh. And if you don't care that much, then please end the hypocrisy of waving Vatican II around like a club whenever it suits you. Either the Council matters...or it doesn't. Which?

2. Whether you like the old form of the Mass doesn't matter. No one says you have to like it. But it is the Mass. If you really think that the form of the Mass, as we experienced it for something like 1500 years (consider, that's 3/4ths of the life of the Church!), is as bad as all that, how can you even justify such a position? Come on, think: that's just a non-starter. The pope himself said, in this recent action, that the Mass of the ages must be re-understood in its glory and wonder, the need for reform notwithstanding. See? That's a very different starting-point for how we think about Vatican II and the Mass, as opposed to the "throw it out and start new" mindset that many have.

3. Point 2, above, does NOT mean you will be "forced" into anything, unless you consider creating options FOR OTHERS is somehow, coercion of you. That may sound silly, but I will say it again. There really are folks who seek a veto on what others want. I get the letters and phone calls, I know what I'm talking about. I don't get many.

But it does mean two things: that you be open to more options, because the pope said we're going to provide them, and I am not going to disobey the pope. Period. If you choose to do so, that's your soul. You have no right whatsoever to issue ultimatums to others to disobey the pope. So, in time, as things sort out, these two parishes here will find a way to meet the requests that the pope has told me, as pastor, to honor.

And it means that we have to be flexible. Yes, it's possible some day, a daily Mass will be according to the old use. It could even be true of a Sunday Mass. (Gasps all around.) When? How? That will all depend on you, the faithful! The pope said, honor the requests of the faithful. If few make requests, then that's one thing. But if many make requests, that is another. All I can say is, I have to wait and see what you do! And respond.

(By the way, if you think this means some dying to self for you, it does for me, too. I have nothing against the old form, but if it were entirely up to me, I doubt I'd go get trained in it, and have to pursue this. Yes, it's doable, but its not easy.)

4. The pope said the two forms of the Roman Rite are to influence each other. (If you are keeping score, here's where the most hard-nosed traditionalists are going to complain; there are those who want no change, not a whit, nothing, nada, zilch.) The pope makes it clear his goal is, way down the line, to have the Roman liturgy -- as a single reality, not dual -- have both the good things the Council called for, as well as the immense riches that were embodied in the classic form of the Mass, but which so wastefully were thrown out with the rubbish in the mis-application of Vatican II. The pope is saying, run out and pull those things from the garbage, before its too late.

So...and here is the $64,000 question, and after all the gnashing of teeth (and this is where it's going to be, the next few years), the question remains: what will this look like for the current, normal form of the Mass?

Let's be honest: no change is not obeying the pope's vision. So the celebration of the Mass, according to the current form...has to change.


My feeling has been -- based on many things before this letter, but obviously confirmed by the pope's action -- is that this means a recovery of music, a shift from all contemporary music to much more traditional music (and I don't mean hymns; this will surprise many, but even old hymns are not really appropriate at Mass in most of the places they are used. What Vatican II said, recovering long tradition, was to chant Scripture texts, something like the responsorial psalm, if you are having a hard time picturing what I mean. But not hymns. So being faithful to Vatican II, for both the new and old forms of Mass, is to use hymns sparingly at Mass.

Also, it seems utterly clear (and does anyone now deny it?) that this means re-including at least some minimum amount of Latin, routinely, in the Mass. Those who don't like this: will you continue to insist, contrary to the text of Vatican II, and now the actions of the pope -- that you alone know best? Really?

It raises the question -- and this will really send some into orbit, but I am sorry -- of the posture of the priest while offering the sacrifice at the altar. In the classic rite, from time immemorial, the priest and people faced the altar together. Like it, don't like it, the better question is, why is one better than the other, and how do we decide this?

I don't see any reason why I, a parish priest, should decide which is truly better. How can I have any competence for such a question? And, no offense, but how many folks in the pews, regardless of what side you're on, can really say, "yes, I happen to be qualified to make this decision"?

So we have to look to the bishops, the pope -- and the pope himself, really, isn't claiming to know (although he's written about it -- but he has chosen not to mandate a change, although he rightfully could). Rather, he seems to want to have the next few years be a time of reflection on this, as the two forms coexist and influence each other.

And, while on the subject, if you think this posture, known as "ad orientem" (which means to the east) was disallowed in the current form of the Mass, again, not so! Sorry to shock you, but there it is. The current Mass can be celebrated, legally and properly, with the priest and the people facing the same way during the sacrifice, as opposed to the priest facing the people from the other side of the altar.

This subject of ad orientem is going to come up, sooner or later. Parishioners, please tell the panicky who insist they know my secret plans...I have no plans on that subject, other than to bring it up with parishioners, which I have just begun to do. We'll talk about it, and see how things go.

There are certainly many other things that a "cross-pollination" between the old and new forms of the Mass might mean for the new form. Feel free to suggest in the comments. Obviously, we're all going to be wrestling with this now. I don't have all the answers. My purpose here is simply to explain what this all may mean for all of us, in the near term.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Laborers are not few... (Sunday homily)

The Prophet Isaiah describes a future Jerusalem,
as a place of great abundance and joy.

That richness, that abundance—where is it?
It is right here!
Right here in the richness of compassion
we share with one another.
Wealth of fellowship in the Lord.
Abundance of the Holy Spirit,
poured out from our wounded God on the Cross,
into our own, wounded lives.

Where do we find this?
Here! In the life we share together as Catholics,
united around the Cross, around the altar,
where we are nourished abundantly
from the Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ.

That abundance is right here, all the time.
Whether I do a good job offering Mass,
Or the readers or servers or each of us
does our part well enough, the prosperity is still here.

When you see what the Holy Mass is,
what the Catholic Faith is—
And the Mass is the Faith:
every part of our Faith, one way or another,
is revealed and can be understood, through the Mass—
Then you know how rich we truly are!
For those who drift away, or walk away
because they are unhappy about something,
how can we help them see this abundance?

Pray to the Lord of the harvest.

The Lord said “the laborers are few.”

Some 1300 people routinely attend
the Holy Sacrifice in Piqua every weekend.
There are many more beyond that.

In Piqua, the laborers are not few.
We are not poor—we are rich.
We are not weak or uncertain—
we have the power of Christ
to cast Satan down like lightning from the sky!

What’s holding us back?

Well, the pope done did it!

All those I told, time and again, not to react prematurely, not to act on rumor or second-hand information, to be patient, wait and see...

Have at it!

I'm referring, of course, to the much discussed, trumpeted and feared motu proprio by the successor of St. Peter on the use of the older form of the Latin Mass (you will note my wording; it is accurate, even if it is surprising. See below.*)

I just read the documents -- there are two, the "legal" document that actually contains the new norms, and a cover letter to the bishops explaining them and responding to some concerns -- and I am struck by several things:

This is definitely "power to the people." The document is very clear: the priest can offer the old Mass on his own initiative; he can do so "privately," only then, the people can come. (And don't kid yourself; how will the people know? The priest will "let it slip"!) So, in effect, the priest can organize such groups, starting simply by offering the old Mass. But more remarkably, whether the priest does that or not, the people can simply come to the priest, and ask for it--and the priest is expected to respond favorably, as best he can. If he doesn't, the bishop is expected to act to help (i.e., perhaps another priest, or training for the priest, etc.) If he doesn't help, it goes to Rome. But the entire arrangement seems to say, tip it in favor of the people's request!

This is "power to the people." And so those who choose to call this anti-Vatican II, I wouldn't recommend saying that too soon before or after you claim Vatican II was all about empowering the laity and ending excessive clerical power, because, um, people might notice the two statements don't follow.

This won't be easy on priests or some parishes. For example, I will have to get trained in the old Mass; I still have a lot of work to do refining my celebration of the current rite. Nothing against the old rite, but I wasn't looking for more. Fear not, I'm going to be positive, because I trust the pope. But finding time to do it won't be easy.

Also, I will most likely have to buy additional ritual books, and who knows what else that goes with them. I really have no idea. This will cost real money. Getting that done, doing it right, again will all take time as well. (It's more than the old Missal, because the pope said all this applies to baptisms, marriages, anointing of the sick, etc.)

Hint: if you are going to pursue this in your parish, you might want to offer to help with these additional costs. They may be considerable, get ready. And--to be fair--don't take it away from other parish needs, either! That's dirty pool!

This is about how the Church, and history, views Vatican II--and that's big This should signal it's time to stop using the "new v. old" Church and Mass way of explaining Vatican II. Sorry, that's both incorrect and now it's clearly unhelpful. The pope--the pope--is saying that's wrong. I know, a lot of us were told that, and on behalf of those who told you that, wearing a collar--I'm sorry. But the time has now arrived to stop.

This marks a new era--the era of we invented a new church, "sing a new church," out with the old (some cheer, some boo, some cry), in with the new (some cheer, some boo, some cry), is over. There is one Church. And there is one, great Roman tradition, and at some point in the future, the Mass of the ages, which is the "old Rite," and the revised form of the Mass called for by Vatican II, are not far apart but very close, really all part of one lex orandi ("law" or norm of praying). The pope is acting to arrest the drifting of them apart, and to bring them back together; not necessarily united, although that may be what God will bring about in years to come, but clearly much closer.

This also means, I must say, that those who are arguing for an essentially "contemporary" celebration of the Mass--as opposed to an essentially traditional celebration, which includes elements that are contemporary (can you see that these are different?), would seem to be on the defensive. I don't say that exultantly, but it is time for those who have been rather strident, on that score, to realize their position.

Now we have the great tradition itself, plus what the Council said, plus what re-thinking liturgists and bishops are starting to say, plus what many of the faithful are saying, and now, plus what the pope is saying, and what the norms of the Church herself are going to provide for. I don't kid myself; it's going to be a bumpy ride for many years, but unless a future pope rescinds this; or the enthusiasm for old form fades, it seems the re-integration of the two forms of the Roman liturgy is now official policy from the highest level.

Will the enthusiasm for the older forms fade? Ironically, they may, precisely as the old and new become better integrated. One wonders if the immediate implementation of the Council's mandates had been handled -- for lack of a better term -- more "conservatively," we might well have a unified rite already. God only knows.

Will a future pope rescind this? Of course he may, but consider the grief that would cause him? The most favorable occasion to do so would be...when it is no longer needed. I.e., if and when the development of the liturgy has moved to a new place of harmony--just what the pope has called for.

Contention is not the pope's doing. Some will accuse the pope of "creating discord." Don't kid yourself, it was already there. I think he's trying to seek a long-term path away from it. Just because parishes are completely in the "contemporary" mode, that doesn't mean they've escaped conflict--they've simply moved it to the parish boundary, or that of the diocese, or that of the social circle: "us v. them." For that matter, when the Church of today is divorced from the Church of the ages, that is not progress, it's death.

There's more I could say, but I must head over and offer Mass.

* I call it the "older form" because all other names are either misleading or obscure. To call it the "Tridentine Mass" implies it originated at Trent, which is seriously mistaken--it preceded that council by something like a thousand years. To refer to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII is correct, but not terribly enlightening to most.

To call it the "Latin Mass" is flat wrong for reasons I will explain presently. The Mass of the "Roman Rite" -- that's us Roman Catholics, remember not all Catholics are Roman -- is, by definition, the "Latin Mass." Even when you don't celebrate it in Latin, it remains "the Latin Mass." While I know that's not common usage, it is confusing usage, especially in light of this decision. So let's stop being confusing.

To refer the older form as its own "rite" is also wrong, because "rite" refers to a great segment of the Church, and there is not two Roman Rites -- two great segments of the Church originating from the city of Rome -- but solely one Roman Rite. To the extent liturgy has, in recent decades, become a battleground, the pope is aiming to chart a path back toward greater unity around one Roman Rite -- and, note, "Rite" implies that this identity of the Roman "segment" is united around the liturgy; yet another reason the pope is acting, because the Roman liturgy, in recent years, has hardly been very unified in its expression, except in a very lowest-common-denominator way.