Friday, January 29, 2010

The Cole Porter Catholics

There's no argument when it comes to the joy of listening to Cole Porter music. Especially for those in the prime of life, and who are doing well. Not many questions to answer, not many concerns to worry about, not many commitments to keep. One's heart may wander, but when all is said and done:
But I'm always true to you, darlin', in my fashion
Yes, I'm always true to you, darlin', in my way.
This wonderful lyric ought to be adopted as their anthem by all those who have very strong feelings about "the liturgy", without wanting to be too concerned about the "fine print". Works for me, and in the end that's what's important, right?

Many need to remember that the Church does not teach that the Sacraments are the be-all and end-all of life, human or Christian, but rather the principle means of salvation entrusted to Her by which mankind is to be saved.

There are those who comment on blogs, especially blogs dealing with the minutiae or aesthetics of the Liturgy, especially nowadays the Traditional Latin Mass, or Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, of whom one should be able to expect more, that Pope John Paul II was not "great" because he had a liturgical tin-ear, or because he went too far in displays of what they think of as a "false ecumenism". But now, Pope Benedict XVI, who is great (in this I agree with them), is restoring things to the way they should be (liturgically, and hopefully everywhere else).

One young Catholic philosopher, who for professional reasons had to move from one location to another, and failing to find a "traditional Catholic community" had to fall in with a "Novus Ordo" parish, but one which was faithful the the Church's liturgical norms, discovered that he and his family had nothing to fear from the "New Mass" and those who worshipped according to it. He even mentioned that he learned a few things from those fellow Christians! What this man had discovered was "peace", and he wrote an article describing his personal discovery, and published it in a well known monthly Catholic journal.

As part of his analysis of his own experience, he suggested that his prior attitude had been more that of a Gnostic, rather than that of a Catholic. Because of the injustice created when large numbers of clergy abandoned the strict adherence to the Church's liturgical norms, it became a matter of concern for any conscientious Catholic to find out what was being taught in each parish, what was being preached in each homily, how Christ was being worshiped at each Mass. There were certain outward signs that might help -- altar arrangements, vestments, etc. -- but then depending on the allegiances of the priests saying Mass, those outward signs might or might not be authentic signs of true Catholic Faith. So even among the so-called "traditionalist" groups, one had to decide for himself. You know:
In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
Now heaven knows, anything goes.
His use of the term "gnosticism" was justified; in many ways, it resembles a protestant attitude, where lacking the authority of a Church, one searches out and either finds, or founds, a Church that seems to address one's "issues".

The recent "revelations" of the great asceticism of Pope John Paul II (the "non-Great") recalled all this to my mind: Karol Woytyla's whole life was a testimony to fidelity to God, to authentic friendship between men, to reconciliation and reaching out to others, to authentic heroically lived human and supernatural virtues. If he wasn't a liturgical purist, who cares?

Pope John Paul II was truly Great, with the greatness that comes, not from critiquing the nits, and nats, of liturgical practice, but with the grace of God that is supposed to flow from the Sacraments, the great means of sanctification, to form us into other Christs.
I can't look at hobbles and I can't stand fences
Don't..... fence me in.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Being and not Being

I bought Peter Kreeft's Summa of the Summa for my daughter because she asked me for it. Since her mother is wont to throw any books my daughter has that appear to have any connection with orthodox Christianity in the garbage, I have been safekeeping the book at my place.

This morning I decided to read Kreeft's introduction, which I found to be excellent. Much like the kinds of comments that a good professor of Thomistic philosophy or theology would be making to students as they made their way through the arguments. For anyone really interested, I recommend simply reading the whole thing, which is rather brief to begin with, about 12 pages. On page 21 I came across this gem:

Why so many footnotes instead of longer, more general introductory essays for each section? (1) Because with St. Thomas general ideas are not adequate, though they are necessary; we need to understand him in specific detail; (2) because we need help understanding specific passages, which general introductions cannot supply; and (3) because this technique trains our minds, which all too often are accustomed to be satisfied with vague generalities, especially in philosophy and theology.
In other words, because we need the specifics, we need the specifics, and we need to avoid mere generalities! Excellent, excellent and excellent. Then he continues:

St. Thomas thought of philosophy and theology as sciences. As a philosophy teacher I repeatedly discover that science majors find St. Thomas easier (at least at first) than humanities majors (especially sociology, psychology, and communications majors).
This got me to wonder why that is. Or, to be less ingenuous, I have noticed a similar thing with respect to the level of discourse by Catholics on the Internet, and how little most voices have to offer! I mention "Catholics" because I am one, and because when I was growing up, there were far more men and women making specific, logical arguments about reality and society, than I seem to encounter these days, except in a few places.

I attribute it to the lack of formation given to most Catholics over recent decades. Unlike in my student days, when "theology majors" were rare except among those studying to be priests or religious, its seems that today, every other person who feels the need to write has a degree in Religious Studies or Theology. And most of what they say seems to have very little impact. The only group worse at communicating seem to be sociologists and communications majors!

I think it goes back to Hegel and Kant. Their deformative systems have a characteristic that is critical to this issue, and it comes right at the starting points of their "systems". (Kreeft points out in his introduction, by the way, that Thomism is systematic, but not a system.) It is easiest to see in the case of Hegel.

When Hegel speaks of "non being", he defines it as the negation of "being". In other words, non-being is an existent which merely contradicts being.

Let's try an example. "The ball is red; the ball is not red." Both propositions are about an existing thing, a ball. One asserts its color, the other denies its color. The color, an actual reality, is either red or not-red, but in both cases, it is colored. This is called univocal predication, and is the province of formal sciences, logic and its offshoot, mathematics. The question of existential predication does not come up.

Existential predication is about whether something is or is not, in actual point of fact, in reality. If Einstein asserts that Newtonian physics is fine, as long as we correct it slightly to account for special, and general relativity, he is saying that the universe is something like Newtonian physics says it is, but that the mathematics (the physical model) needs to be "corrected" in order to truly model reality, by those quantities that account for relativistic phenomena (which usually only manifest discernable differences at great distances or great velocities). Einstein is using reality to correct an existing model.

This is a statement about what is, and what is not. We are not given a choice between two ways of understanding the universe, relativistic and non-relativistic, which issue in some third understanding (the Hegelian dialectic), but a denial that the universe is really like simple Newtonian physics, and an assertion that the universe is actually Einsteinian.

An even simpler example. "the universe is large" vs. "the universe is not large" is at the level of formal predication; whereas "the universe is" vs. "the universe is not" is at the level of existential predication.

To get back to our religious topic, when Christ said "This is my body", he was not speaking as a Hegelian; he meant, "this bread" which you see, "is ontologically my body" (after the Blessing) which you do not see. Were he being purely "logical", He could only have said, "this is not my body", which was obvious to everybody within earshot, and would no more have needed saying, than it needed to be said that "this house is not my body".

I do not know how any Catholic, much less great Catholic theologians, can be anything but a realist. In fact, it must be that realism must be one of those curious things which the church has called "proxima fidei", because while not being strictly revealed, it is so close to a proper grasp of what is revealed, that it is a near "neighbor" of faith.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Liturgical Peace

There is an interesting recent essay on the Reform of the Reform movement as the second aim of Summorum pontificum emanating from a website called Paix Liturgique, i.e., Pax liturgica. I like the name since it is what Benedict XVI called for in his letter to the Bishops of the Church in promulgating the Motu proprio.

Its author is not named, so I can only reference the article itself. Its anonymity is a bit of a problem, though, since it makes some very strong claims. Does the author have the knowledge to make such claims? Who knows? I myself think more nuance is needed; not random nuance, but that of one who does have the authority to make them. Joseph Ratzinger, as Cardinal Prefect of the CDF, possessed such authority.

The author's main point, as I read it, is that the predominant (if not exclusive) influence is to be, and ought to be, that of the Ordinary Form being reformed in the light of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. It makes the strong claim that the Older form is to be changed in no way whatsover, that there ought not to be, nor will there ever be, a tertium quid, i.e., a third form of the Rite to eventually emerge as the ultimate child of the "mutual enrichment" the Pope spoke about.

As to the rest of the article, I am sympathetic, since it argues that what is needed is a restoration of adoration of God in the Holy Mass, greater sacrality, and asserts that the Offertory prayers of the Older form should and will replace the current Offertory prayers of the Ordinary Form.

The two problems that I perceive with the argumentation are that a) the author speaks as if the starting point, the terminus a quo, is well-known and fixed, and b) the author ignores the directives of the bishops assembled at Vatican II in the Liturgical Constitution on the Liturgy Sacrosanctum concilium (SC).

Is the Mass of Blessed John XXIII of 1962 a well-known and fixed entity? At first glance, one might think that it is: there is a Roman Missal dated 1962, and it includes the insertion of the name of St. Joseph during the commemoration of the Saints. This much is well-known and fixed.

But the Mass celebrated just before and during the Council, was not entirely contained in a book with prayers and rubrics. There were degrees of prescribed solemnity for the Sacrifice of the Mass, degrees which were not changed with the Missal itself. There was a concept of a "normative Mass", which was -- so I've been told -- the Solemn Pontifical Mass, where the Bishop was the main celebrant, and he was assisted by Deacon and Subdeacon, Master of Ceremonies, and a number of other assistants, not to mention the choir. There was a concept of a "private Mass", not that any mass is actually private, but rather that the priest was celebrating with no more than one other, a server to assist him.  There were gradations between these two, depending on many different circumstances. The proper number of ordained ministers was set; the vestments used were determined by the solemnity, as well as the liturgical solemnity of the feast or feria; etc. So far, we have gone deep into the weeds without getting any answers.

In addition, there co-existed at the time a certain freedom to celebrate Holy Mass using modalities which some have made controversial. Elsewhere, I copied some text from the introductory section of my old hand missal, which describes about six modalities for celebrating Holy Mass. That post may be found here. The different modalities involve participation by the congregation and choir. Such practices were not only entirely orthodox at the time, but even encouraged. But because some "liturgical experts" have decided that they were the camel's nose under the tent of what they regard as an almost invalid reform of the liturgy over the next decade, they deplore these modalities. On the other hand, it strikes me that what SC was calling for, included some of them. But more importantly, it seemed that way to Joseph Ratzinger in 1998 (cf. an address of his to a conference of "Eccesia Dei" participants here along with some pointed remarks by me here).

What the author does not make clear is whether or not such freedoms (permissions), dating from 1962 or before, are part of the terminus a quo he has in mind, or not.

Separately, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, on his blog, What Does the Prayer Really Say, has been asking over the last few years what the experience of his readers has been, both those who have always tried to keep in touch with the Older form of the Mass, as well as younger people who now have the opportunity to experience it. In the last week or so, he has been publishing impressions that he requested come to him via email. I am not going to reproduce them here, though I would recommend that anyone interested in those impressions take a look at his blog. I will characterize the responses as coming from people with ages ranging from late teens to people in their 60s and older. Some have preferences between the two Forms, others do not. Some have backgrounds in Latin, others do not. It is a good mix of people.

Some have opined that they would like to respond to the priest more (that was a modality); some have mentioned that they missed praying or singing the Gloria, Creed, and Our Father (that was a modality); others have mentioned that the would prefer that the readings be in the vernacular (rather than repeating them as is done in some places) (that is a modality that Benedict XVI mentions explicitly in Summorum pontificum, though the author of this article fails to mention it, only mentioning use of some of the new prefaces). Some mention that being unable to hear the prayers during the Canon makes it hard for them "to keep up with the priest". I have seen very rude responses to such observations, things like "you don't need to know where you are, only the Priest needs to know". Such rudeness fails to realize, or feigns ignorance, that one of the examples given by the Popes in the twentieth century, in speaking of "active participation" is, in fact, following the prayers of the Mass in hand missals. After all, it is also true that only the celebrant needs to receive Holy Communion, the highest form of "active participation" in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The point is that while the Roman Missal of 1962 is a known entity, what exactly should be taken as the norm by those desiring to effect a reform of the reform is not thereby known. It would be helpful if the terminus a quo were spelled out authoritatively, so that the Ordinary Form of the Mass might also be able to participate in the "mutual enrichment" of the two Forms for which Pope Benedict is hoping.

It's hard to applaud with only one hand.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Full Priesthood and "People's Priests"

While the title of this article may sound like something taken from the marxist ravings of some liberation theologian, it is not. I have distilled the title from a portion of Cardinal Ratzinger's response to Peter Seewald in "Salt of the Earth" (pp.198-9).

In the larger context, Seewald is pressing Ratzinger for his views about the possibility of married priests in the Church's future (pp. 194-200). For some reason Seewald, like others in our world today, has a fixation on an optionally married priesthood as a "solution" for problems in the Church. Ratzinger doesn't exactly agree with him, and cites two synods of bishops for support; both marriage and the priesthood today are in crisis due to a crisis of faith, a lack of vibrant believers.

After insisting that "celibacy is not a matter of compulsion", and truly that is a caricature foisted on us today by certain chatty Pornocrats (to use a term of Fr. Hunwicke), the Cardinal continues, asking, "That is now the question: How deeply do priesthood and celibacy belong together? And is not the wish to have only one [without the other] a lower view of the priesthood?" He then makes a brief review of ministerial service in Protestantism, Orthodoxy and Catholicism:

[I do not think] that in this matter it's enough simply to point to the Orthodox Churches and Protestant Christianity. Protestant Christianity has per se a completely different understanding of office: it is a function, it is a ministry coming out of the community, but it is not a sacrament in the same sense; it is not priesthood in this proper sense. In the Orthodox Churches we have, on the one hand, the full form of the priesthood, the priest monks, who alone can become bishops. Alongside them are the "people's priests", who, if they want to marry, must marry before ordination but who exercise little pastoral care but are really only liturgical ministers. This is also a somewhat different conception of priesthood. We, on the other hand, are of the opinion that everyone who is a priest at all must be so in the way that the bishop is and that there cannot be such a division.

In the light of the promulgation on Nov. 4, 2009 by Benedict XVI, in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, of the juridical structure called a Personal Ordinariate, in this case destined for people with ties to Anglicanism, it is interesting to contemplate future such Ordinariates in the light of the distinction Ratzinger makes above regarding Orthodox priesthood: monk's priests vs. people's priests, celibate vs. married clergy.

In the immediate aftermath, it has been heart-warming to hear and read of the reception by Anglicans of that action made by the Pope, especially when one realizes how deft an initiative by the Holy Spirit it has been: the hopes of many have been raised high! And, as is fitting, many of the reflections are of the sort "what now", "what do I/we need to do now to respond to this?" In the vanguard, it seems to an outsider, are those Anglican clergy who have the most to lose by "crossing the Tiber", in the sense that being already in possession of certain "livings" (in the English sense of that word) and honors due to them for their service, they remain open to the possibilities of full reunion with the Mother Church.

Outside that group, among Roman Catholics, the popular imagination honed in immediately, and with the apparent intensity of Peter Seewald's questioning of Cardinal Ratzinger, on the matter of priestly celibacy, and whether or not this was a way of introducing married clergy into the otherwise celibate Catholic priesthood. Roman Catholics have always been known for the depth of their doctrinal acuity! As Patrick O'Brian would have said of them, they are true "sea lawyers". And who knows, the sea lawyers may be right; perhaps in the future the whole world will become accustomed to knowing that there are Catholic Priests of the Latin Rite (Anglican Use) who are comprised of (some) married clergy. If so, blessed be God! For a while, there will be those Catholics who shun the Sacrifice of the Mass offered by such priests, or if present at the Mass, who will seek to receive Communion at the hands of another (celibate) priest. I have seen the same little maneuver amongst "traditionalist" Catholics attending Mass in the Extraordinary Form, who would prefer to wait longer on the Communion line rather than to receive Our Lord at the hands of a married Deacon! St. Augustine used to speak (following the Apostles) of the parvuli and the perfecti, the babes and the adults.

The only point I wish to make here is this. The long and glorious history of the Anglican Patrimony, dating back to the times of the Anglo-Saxons, includes not just many treasures of an ecclesiastical-aesthetic interest, but also a very apostolic, missionary, thrust. One need only think of the great evangelists of the northern Germanic tribes, such as St. Boniface, from the south of England, Apostle to the Saxons (Tolkien did, in contemplating the purpose for the writing of the great epic Beowulf). And also, the great cloud of English martyrs of the Reformation period, who strove mightily to wrest back Mary's Dowry from those who would squander it. Devotion to Our Lady is very, very, very English. We English-speaking Roman Catholics must rejoice together with our soon-to-be brethren in the reconnecting of the Anglican Patrimony to its primal source.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Evolution. Status Quaestionis from circa 1909 in Catholic Encyclopedia

In the interest of informing evolutionary biologists like Dr. Richard Dawkins about what actual believing Catholic Christians have had to say about "evolution", here are the conclusions of a longish article from the Catholic Encyclopedia. Clearly, though 100 years old or so, this article has no axe to grind about the science. (And note the three components, in the author's opinion, of any future scientific theories of evolution!)

General conclusions

The most important general conclusions to be noted are as follows:—

1. The origin of life is unknown to science.

2. The origin of the main organic types and their principal subdivisions are likewise unknown to science.

3. There is no evidence in favour of an ascending evolution of organic forms.

4. There is no trace of even a merely probable argument in favour of the animal origin of man. The earliest human fossils and the most ancient traces of culture refer to a true Homo sapiens as we know him today.

5. Most of the so-called systematic species and genera were certainly not created as such, but originated by a process of either gradual or saltatory evolution. Changes which extend beyond the range of variation observed in the human species have thus far not been strictly demonstrated, either experimentally or historically.

6. There is very little known as to the causes of evolution. The greatest difficulty is to explain the origin and constancy of "new" characters and the teleology of the process. Darwin's "natural selection" is a negative factor only. The moulding influence of the environment cannot be doubted; but at present we are unable to ascertain how far that influence may extend. Lamarck's "inheritance of acquired characters" is not yet exactly proved, nor is it evident that really new forms can arise by "mutation". In our opinion the principle of "Mendelian segregation", together with Darwin's natural selection and the moulding influence of environment, will probably be some of the chief constituents of future evolutionary theories.

Source: Muckermann, H. (1909). Evolution (History and Scientific Foundation). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved January 6, 2010 from New Advent:

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Angel of Great Council

For a number of years, I have been turning over in my mind a prayer from the Roman Canon, and a peculiar phrase there. The prayer occurs after the Consecration, and reads as follows, in Latin,
Supplices te rogamus, omnipotens Deus: jube haec perferri per manus sancti Angeli tui in sublime altare tuum, in conspectu divinae maiestatis tuae: ut quotquot, ex hac altaris participatione sacrosanctum Filli tui Corpus et Sanguinem sumpserimus, omni benedictione caelesti et gratia repleamur. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
And in English, using the same capitalization as in Latin,
Humbly we implore thee, almighty God, bid these offerings to be carried by the hands of thy holy Angel to thy altar on high, in the sight of thy divine majesty, that all we who are partakers at the altar of the precious Body and Blood of thy Son, may be filled with all heavenly grace and blessing. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Aside from the first word of the paragraph, and the traditional conclusion, the words capitalized here are the following: God, Angel, Body, Blood, Son.

Why do I find that meaningful? Well, for one thing, earlier versions of this same prayer from the Canon of the Mass do not use "Angeli", but "angelorum". At the early times when these sources were copied punctualization (including capitalization) may not have been very significant, so "Angel" in the upper case must be a relatively late touch-up; but the change from "angels" to "Angel", which might otherwise appear to be a minor editorial change makes me think that this was to indicate that the Angel in question was the person of Jesus Christ himself, at this point in the Mass, present on the altar under the appearances of bread and wine.

I say this without being certain about it, because if that is the purpose of this phrase, i.e., to bid the Father to accept "our offering" at the hands of His Beloved Son, who was sent to us for our salvation, it must be a reference to some phrase from Scripture, and the word "angel" must be taken in its sense of "messenger", rather than referring to Christ himself as if he were of Angelic nature, which is an ancient heresy.

It is such an old heresy, in fact, that St. Paul (?) explicitly makes the case that Christ is "higher" than the angels in the first couple of chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews! St. Paul asks: "For to which of the angels has he said at any time: Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee? (Heb 1, 5; quoting Psalm 2).

Happily, however, I have been able to find the passage that was clanging about in the back of my mind. Today, January 1, the Octave of Christ's Nativity, I attended the Extraordinary Form of the Mass at my parish, and the Introit of today's Mass is from the Prophet Isaiah (Is 9, 6):
Puer natus est nobis, et filius datus est nobis: cuius imperium super humerum eius: et vocabitur nomen eius, magni consilii Angelus.
A child is born to us, and a Son is given to us, whose rule is upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called the Angel of great counsel.
The Latin and English here, i.e., in the Liturgy of the Mass, follow the words of the Septuagint Greek, μεγάλης βουλῆς ἄγγελος. It seems like a very good expression of the sacramental mystery of the Sacrifice of the Mass, for which Christ's Incarnation, which we celebrate today on its Octave, is a precondition.