Saturday, November 28, 2009

Clarity in Blessings: A Comparison of the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms of the Roman Ritual – Part 2 of 3

Tridentine Community News (November 29, 2009):
Our third comparison is the Blessing of Sacred Vessels or Ornaments In General (from the Extraordinary Form’s Rituále Románum book) alongside the Blessing of Articles for Liturgical Use (from the Ordinary Form’s Book of Blessings):

Extraordinary Form
℣. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
℟. Who made heaven and earth.
℣. The Lord be with you.
℟. And with your spirit.
Let us pray.
Most gracious Father and Lord, hear our prayers, and bless + and sanctify + these vessels and ornaments of the altar prepared for the sacred ministry of Thy Church. Through Christ our Lord.
℟. Amen.
Let us pray.
Almighty and eternal God, by Whom all things defiled are purified, and in Whom all things purified retain their lustre, humbly we ask Thy Omnipotence that the vessels and ornaments which Thy servants offer unto Thee, be freed from the contaminating influence of evil spirits, and that by Thy blessing + they remain sanctified for divine worship. Through Christ our Lord.
℟. Amen.
[They are then sprinkled with Holy Water.]

Ordinary Form
℣. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
℟. Who made heaven and earth.
[A short passage of sacred Scripture is read.]
℣. Let us pray. Blessed are you, O God, who through your Son, the Mediator of the New Testament, graciously accept our praise and generously bestow your gifts on us. Grant that these articles, set aside for the celebration of divine worship, may be signs of our reverence for you and helps to our faithful service. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
℟. Amen.

The latter seems rather diluted compared to the former. Extraordinary Form blessings always include at least one sign of the Cross, plus a sprinkling of the object with (exorcized) Holy Water. These actions, along with the wording of many of the blessings, purify the object being blessed. That notion of sanctification is deemphasized in the Ordinary Form versions.

The Book of Blessings rarely capitalizes pronouns referring to a member of the Holy Trinity. It virtually never employs the hierarchical pronouns Thee and Thou. By so doing, there is less distinction of the Divine Nature. It is the liturgical equivalent of middle school students addressing their teachers by their first names. Such texts are arguably a causative factor in the lessening of reverence towards the sacred, much less the Divine.

Sacred Scripture readings have a prominent role in the Book of Blessings. Largely because of their incorporation, many of the blessings have longer forms than their counterparts in the traditional Ritual. An argument might be made that major blessings should not be rushed affairs. A counter-argument is that the traditional Rituále is more practical for pastoral reasons: With today’s rushed schedules, blessings such as a priest might be asked to give after Mass should be shorter, to accommodate more people and more objects. In this respect, the Book of Blessings is showing its age: it was composed during a more leisurely paced era. Nowadays, blessings that are too lengthy are likely never to be used, or to be replaced with spontaneously-worded blessings that might not express the mind of the Church. Yet the Ritual exists in the first place so that specific formulas are followed.

Organic Growth of the Roman Ritual

Debates over the relative merits of the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms of Holy Mass are regular topics in the Catholic press. In contrast, little time has been spent thus far comparing the official blessings of the Church found in the Roman Ritual and its derivative books. The classic Rituále Románum provides greater clarity in its blessings than its counterpart Book of Blessings. Objects are clearly blessed in every case; the person(s) using them are not the primary objects of (sometimes quasi-) blessing.

This is not to say that the 1961 Ritual cannot be improved. It needs additional prayers for objects that did not exist in 1961, for example blessings of computers. It could stand to drop or update some of the obsolete blessings, such as the Blessing of a Telegraph Instrument. However, the rather conspicuously inconsistent form of the new Good Friday Prayer for the Jews is a lesson that additions should be made in conformity with existing blessings: The new Good Friday prayer, unlike all of the other Good Friday intercessions, concludes with the short “Per Christum Dóminum nostrum”, rather than the full “Per Dóminum nostrum Jesum Christum Fílium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat…” format of phrase which finishes each of the other Good Friday prayers. In contrast, new Extraordinary Form blessings should be carefully patterned on the old, whose language and structure has been developed and refined over centuries.

If it is actually the intention of the Church that the Ordinary Form no longer blesses objects but rather blesses those who use the objects, then the blessings should be given more accurate titles, such as: “Blessing of Those Who Use Holy Water”, if only for linguistic accuracy. This is a separate matter from the debate over whether the prayers are appropriately worded.

Our Holy Father’s 2007 Motu Proprio, Summórum Pontíficum gives every priest the right to use the classic Roman Ritual for all of the blessings and Sacraments. There is reason to be optimistic that the increasing use of the traditional books will lead to a recognition of the need for a revised, more accurately phrased Book of Blessings, regardless of one’s liturgical proclivities.
[Comments? Please e-mail Previous columns are available at This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for November 29, 2009. Hat tip to A.B.]

Columnist irate at suggestion pre-Vatican clerics guilty of child abuse

Gerald Warner is, to say the least, upset. In an article yesterday, "Let's get it straight: Irish child abuse was perpetrated by the trendy, modern post-Vatican II Catholic Church" (, November 27, 2009), he writes:
A spin is being put on the shocking revelations in the report on abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin to implicate the “pre-Conciliar” Catholic Church in the wrongdoings of post-Vatican II pederasts. In the process, the name of a good man has been dragged into the cesspit, for political purposes.

The Most Reverend John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin (1940-1972) was a great Catholic prelate. Under his pastoral leadership, the numbers of clergy and religious increased by more than 50 per cent, he created over 60 new parishes and built over 80 new churches and 350 schools....

Most unjustly, his name has been dragged into this scandal. The official Commission’s Report states: “During the period under review, there were four Archbishops – Archbishops McQuaid, Ryan, McNamara and Connell.” Not so. The “period under review” is set out in the Commission’s Terms of Reference as “the period 1 January 1975 to 1 May 2004”. Archbishop McQuaid retired in 1972....

Revealingly, the Report says: “As is shown in Chapter 4, canon law appears to have fallen into disuse and disrespect during the mid 20th century.” Yes; and we all know why – the post-Vatican II anarchic denunciations of “legalism”, of “oppressive” sexual morality and Church teaching generally, promoted by the modernists. As regards implementing canon law against abusers, the Report concedes that Archbishop McQuaid “set the processes in motion but did not complete them [difficult to do when you are dead]....

Well, who ever did, in the trendy, let-it-all-hang-out 1970s and 1980s? The image that has sedulously been propagated is of Irish child abuse perpetrated by priests in soutanes and birettas, cowled monks muttering Latin incantations and nuns in starched wimples and mediaeval habits.

On the contrary, the nightmare orgy of relentless mortal sin recorded in this report was committed by modern priests ....
[Hat tip to Rorate Caeli]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Archbishop Nichols, what were you thinking?"

Damian Thompson, "Archbishop Vincent Nichols 'offered flowers at the altar of Hindu deities'" (, November 24, 2009), writes: "Archbishop Nichols, what were you thinking? Your own press office has reported that you offered flowers at the altar of Hindu deities during a visit to a temple. (UPDATE: since this post went up, the relevant sentence has been removed from the Westminster diocesan website.)"

[Hat tip to Rorate Caeli]

Undoing the Dismal: Liberating Sunday's Soul

by Michael P. Foley

One of the recurring themes of Benedict XVI is the vital nature of Sunday. At the 2005 Eucharistic Congress, at the 2005 World Youth Day, and in a 2007 sermon in Vienna, the Pope repeated an arresting line from the acts of the martyrs. In A.D. 304, forty-nine Christians were apprehended for assembling on Sunday, in violation of imperial law. When the Procounsul asked them "why on earth they had disobeyed the Emperor's severe orders," one of them, a man named Emeritus, replied: "Sine dominico non possumus."1 Emeritus' response has been justifiably translated "Without Sunday we cannot live," but its literal meaning is even more astonishing: "Without Sunday, we cannot exist."

Sustaining Life

Why make such a fuss over a day of the week? Pope Benedict was reflecting on this question years before his elevation to the throne of Peter. For the early persecuted Christians, he wrote in 1996, it was not "a case of choosing between one law and another, but of choosing between the meaning that sustains life and a meaningless life."2 We may get a sense of this meanng by applying one of the things that Yahweh said about the Hebrew Sabbath to the Christian Sunday: "If thou turn away... from doing thy own will in My holy day, and call the Sabbath delightful, and the holy of the Lord glorious, and glorify Him... Then shalt thou be delighted in the Lord, and I will lift thee up above the high places of the earth, and will feed thee with the inheritance of Jacob thy father" (Is 58: 13, 14).

Note the essential elements of God's promise: The Lord has established a holy day, and man's proper response is to: 1> turn away from his own will and conform it to the will of God; 2. delight in that holy day; and 3. glorify God. If these conditions are fulfilled, God will be someone we truly love rather than merely obey, and we will be lifted up above our earthly drudgery and fed with a heavenly inheritance. A proper observance of the Lord's holy day, in other words, is a life-transforming experience that gives new meaning to our existence. No wonder that as early as the second century, Saint Ignatius of Antioch was defining Christians as those "who live in accordance with Sunday."3

The Christian Sabbath?

As our use of Isaiah would suggest, it is tempting to think of Sunday as the "Christian Sabbath." One must be careful here, however. While it is true that the duties of the Third Commandment regarding the Sabbath (Saturday) have been transferred to Sunday, Sunday springs not from the Old Covenant but from the Resurrection. The Day of the Resurrection falls on the first day of the week, in which God created light, and thus it marks a new beginning and a new creation. Every Sunday is a little Easter, or better yet, every Easter is a big Sunday. The risen Christ's sanctification of Sunday was a reality the Church appropriated slowly but surely: in the Acts of the Apostles, the first Christians observed the Jewish Sabbath along with their own services the next day (Acts 18:4; 20:7); but by the time the Book of the Apocalypse was written, Saint John could speak of "the Lord's Day" (Apoc. 1:10) with the expectation that his readers would know exactly what day he was talking about.4

Freedom from Servility

Sunday also became a day of rest. In 321 the Emperor Constantine, wishing to extend the same honor to Sunday traditionally accorded to pagan feasts, forbade courts to be in session and most kinds of material labor. Interestingly, canon law lagged behind civil law in regulating Sunday as a work-free day, though church officials eventually came to see Sunday, like the Sabbath it replaced, as a way of conforming ourselves to God's will by refraining from the busywork that we, laden with cares, have become addicted to.

Fundamental to this rest is the distinction between servile labor (the kind of work a servant or hired hand does) and liberal activity, that which liberates the soul or is befitting a free man -- reading and writing, arts and entertainment, sports and games, hobbies. Hence the 1917 Code of Canon Law forbids on Sundays and holy days of obligation all "servile work, judicial proceedings and, unless legitimate custom or special indults permit them, public trafficking, public markets, and all other public buying and selling (1248).

The prohibition of servile work had a tremendous impact on Western life, for it meant, among other things, that once a week a slave was his master's equal. As early as the fourth century, many masters would even release their slaves from work on Saturday so that they could better prepare for the Lord's Day, a custom that foreshadows our modern weekend.5 And because a slave's labor was his own on Sunday, he could eventually earn enough money to buy his freedom. In 1724, King Louis XV of France issued the Code Noir, a set of laws protecting slaves and free persons of color in Louisiana. As a result, many slaves and free blacks could gather every week at the old Congo Square in New Orleans, where they would dance and sing to the beat of an African drum, and instrument banned in most other parts of the Protestant-dominated American South. From this freedom to foster and develop culture came the eventual formation of that uniquely American music: jazz. The joy and genius that springs from Sunday is a perfect illustration of Aristotle's paradoxical observation that all action begins in contemplation.

Savoring the Useless

Aristotle privileges contemplation because it is the activity of what is highest in us, our capacity to transcend space, time, and matter and to revel in wonder and discovery. As Josef Pieper argues in his magnificent study Leisure: The Basis of Culture,any attempt to deny this "divine spark" ultimately dehumanizes us, reducing us to mere economic or social units. Servile labor is obviously a good thing, but its prohibition on Sunday reminds us that it is not the highest thing. The servile arts are around because they are useful, but that means we are using them to get to some other, greater good we want more.

A good, on the other hand, that we want or its own sake is something we enjoy: it is a worthy choice regardless of its utilitarian value. When I read my favorite author, it is not because he can help me with my job or my relationships or my car problems, but because his work brings me delight; it is a joy to read, even if there are no practical applications to be derived from it. All of our useful skills and pursuits are there to serve our enjoyment of what is, strictly speaking, useless.

Sunday rest is therefore an essential weekly reminder of the true hierarchy of goods, an admonition to make sure we are not is taking the means for the end. In our consumerist society, this is not easy task. For the last three hundred years the West has placed an exorbitant emphasis on productivity and practicality, portraying the useful as good and the useless as bad.

But the Catholic intellectual tradition, lifting a page or two from classical philosophy, sees through the falseness of this view. It affirms that while the useful is indeed good, it is not a good as a certain category of the useless. Man is meant for something far higher than being a mere consumer or producer, as the two giants of capitalism and communism would both have us believe: man is meant to contemplate the face of God and be happy. As the new Catechism succinctly puts it, the Sabbath "is a day of protest against the servitude of work, and the worship of money" (2172).6 While six days of the week enable us to pay the bills and maybe ensure a decent retirement, Sunday enables us to anticipate the ultimate freedom of enjoying the bliss of the Beatific Vision in eternity.

Sunday, therefore, is a gift that God gives all of us every week to add dignity to our lives and to elevate our natures. And it is our privilege to accept this gift. In the words of Cardinal Faulhaber, "Give the soul its Sunday, and give Sunday its soul."7

Lands Without a Sunday

In the modern era the dramatic increase of white-collar professions and new fields of knowledge sometimes makes it difficult to identify what activities are and are not suitable for Sunday. As Cardinal Newman noted over a century ago, there "are bodily exercises which are liberal, and mental exercises which are not so."8 If I practice woodworking as a hobby, I am engaging in the same manual labor as professional carpenter but in a liberating, non-servile way. Conversely, if I am studying theology (the most liberal of all the arts) in order to meet a publishing deadline, I am taking the liberating luster off my activity; "for Theology thus exercised," Newman writes, "is not simple knowledge," but "an art or a business making use of Theology."9 Whatever we do n Sunday, be it with the hand or the mind, we must be careful that it not be "cut down to the strict exigencies"10 of utilitarian ends, but wrought purely for the sake of relaxation and enjoyment.

Sunday's decline in modern life is not due to an increasingly complex workforce, however. As Pieper notes, the modern doctrine of "total work" has left little room for a genuine celebration of Sunday. This was true even fifty years ago, when Christians of all stripes adhered to the principle of Sunday rest11 and when civic laws still protected Sunday from consumerist encroachment.

Maria von Trapp, inspiration behind the Sound of Music, gives a concrete example of this in her excellent essay, "The Land Without Sunday."12 The title is ostensibly a description of life in the Soviet Union, which ruthlessly suppressed the Lord's Day, but as becomes clear from reading on, it also applies to contemporary America.13 The Trapp family, which started preparing for Sunday the day before by refraining from work and by reading the texts of the Mass together and then spending the Lord's Day in joyous leisure, was shocked by what they saw when they came to the U.S. in 1938: Saturday nights spent in revelry and Sunday mornings spent hung over; farmers doing work on the Lord's Day as on any other; and the bells of Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City silent because "it would be too much noise" -- in New York City, mind you.14 "When we lived in a suburb of Philadelphia," Maria von Trapp writes, "we found that the rich man's Dunday delight seemed to consist of putting on his oldest torn pants and cutting his front lawn, or washing his car with a hose."15

Mrs. von Trapp also discovered another cause behind the demise of the traditional Sunday: Calvinism. Her children were stunned when a woman told them how much she "hated Sundays." The reason, they learned, is that she was brought up in a Puritan household where her mother would lock up all the toys on Saturday night. On Sunday morning, after a long sermon in church, the children were forbidden to play any games, listen to any music, or have any kind of fun. The lady went on to say that she vowed permanent rebellion against this upbringing and would never force her children to go to church.16

The Trapp's friend was not describing an isolated incident. After the Reformation, sports and popular amusements (to say nothing of open pubs) were forbidden in several countries.17 Sunday was now defined as a time for instruction, not enjoyment.

And alas, the Catholic Church has not fared well in counter-acting these tendencies. The post-conciliar allowance of Vigil Masses, some as early as 3 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, has compromised Sunday's integrity,18 while for the past several decades the Magisterium has omitted virtually all references to servile work in discussions on the Lord's Day: the term has been dropped from the 1983 Code of Canon Law19 and from the new Catechism. My guess is that there was a concern over confusing servile work and manual labor, yet as we saw with Cardinal Newman's remarks, the concept of servile work actually clarifies rather than conflates the difference between working with one's hands and working for a mercenary or utilitarian end.

Whatever the motive, the absence of the servile/liberal distinction and the concrete parameters that flow from it make it easy for the individual to bend Sunday to his will rather than vice versa and contribute to the deterioration of a more socially-shared observance. The new Catechism, for example, speaks eloquently of Sunday's purpose and of the fact that "sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort" (2187); yet working in common is more difficult when there is no concrete, common understanding of what should and should not be done.20

Take Back the Day

Instead of dwelling on our current "dismal" situation (a word that, incidentally, means "bad day"), I would like to offer five practical suggestions for giving Sunday back its soul.

Resist commercial temptations. Louis Martin, the father of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, refused to open his jewelry shop on Sunday even though his confessor permitted it, nor did he buy anything on the Lord's Day. One Sunday, when he was an item he really needed, he asked the vendor to hold it for him until the following day.21 While it is true that sometimes Sunday shopping (e.g., for one's hobby) can be a leisurely activity, the more we can resist the temptations to earn or spend money, the better.

Agape. The agape meal was the primitive Church's banquet after the conclusion of the Eucharistic liturgy. The family Sunday dinner, celebrated with extra festivity, is a good adaptation of this Apostolic custom and perhaps in the spirit of relieving the downtrodden, it could be spearheaded by Dad and the kids instead of Mom). Similarly commendable is the coffee-and-donuts hour which many churches offer after Mass. this fosters Catholic fellowship as well as the leisurely quality of the day by discouraging the race-out-of-the-parting-lot mentality so many American Catholics have the moment their Sunday obligation has been fulfilled.

More than Mass. Another way to avoid reducing Sunday to one begrudgingly conceded hour at church is to punctuate it with other forms of prayer. In Europe many churches held Solemn Vespers on Sunday evening, so much so that Sunday dinner was often called the "vesper meal." Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, the family Rosary, and the recitation of Lauds and Vespers are the other ways of sanctifying the entire day to God.

Attend the Latin Mass. While saying this in The Latin Mass is preaching to the converted, it bears mention nonetheless. A friend of mine found himself attending the Latin Mass several years after his conversion. It was at that point, he told me, that the concept of a "Sunday obligation" no longer made sense to him. He could not see Sunday Mass as an obligation any more: it was instead the highpoint of his week, the one thing he really looked forward to. There is something about the traditional Latin Mass, especially the High Mass, that slips the surly bonds of necessity or compulsion of utilitarianism or functionality. It is there to be enjoyed, to give us an experience of Heaven. The Pope has spoken of how the "Sunday precept is not ... an externally imposed duty, a burden on our shoulders," but "a joy."22 For more than a few Catholics, this is easy to see, thanks to the Latin Mass.

Fill your day with merriment. Plan games for your children (croquet is a Foley Sunday favorite) and find fun ways to bring the sacred meaning of the day to their level. We have "sacred theatre," which is something like a puppet show of the Epistle and Gospel readings performed with home-made cardboard cutouts. Another personal recommendation is reading Pieper's Leisure: The Basis of Culture.Early in our marriage, my wife and I would read chapters of it to each other after we came home from Mass and brunch with friends. It is one of my happiest memories of our salad days. And how fitting to learn the theory of leisure while practicing it.


The nineteenth-century poet Ahad Ha'am is said to have made the famous observation, "As much as the Jews kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath kept the Jews." No doubt something similar can be said of Catholics and the Lord's Day. Nowadays Sunday is honored, even by practicing Catholics, more in the breach than in the observance, and the only ones that seem to have responded to the Pope's admonitions are a splinter-group of Seventh Day Adventists worried that this ominously signals a return to the Holy Roman Empire.23 While there may not be easy answers for the proper way to observe the Lord's Day int he contemporary age, one thing is clear: The first step to any recovery, not just of the liturgical year but of the Catholic life of Faith, is the reconquista of Sunday.

  1. Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI, 24th National Eucharistic Congress, Bari, Italy, 29 May 2005 [retrieved November 2009]. [back]

  2. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, A New Song for the Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy.trans. Martha M. Matesich (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1996), 60. [back]

  3. juxta dominicam viventes. Ep. ad Magnesios, 9, 1-2. Cited in the Bari Homily (see footnote 1). [back]

  4. Though the supremacy of Sunday to Christian life was well-established by the second century, the double observance of the Sabbath and the Lord's Day persisted in some parts of the Church into the fourth century. To this day the Greek Church considers Saturday as well as Sunday exempt form all laws of fasting and abstinence. [back]

  5. Francis X. Weiser, S.J., Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs: The Year of the Lord in Liturgy and Folklore(New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1958), 9. [back]

  6. Judging by the context, this applies to the Lord's Day as well. [back]

  7. Quoted by Pope Benedict XVI in his homily delivered during Mass at Saint Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, 9 September 2007 [retrieved November 2009]. [back]

  8. John Henry Cardinal Newman, The Idea of a University(London: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1907), 107. [back]

  9. Ibid, 109. [back]

  10. Ibid. [back]

  11. The one notable exception are the Seventh Day Adventists. [back]

  12. See Maria Augusta von Trapp, Around the Year with the Trapp Family(New York: Pantheon, 1955), 186-202. [back]

  13. It is ironic that two such antithetical systems of human organization should breed such similar vices. [back]

  14. Trapp, 198. [back]

  15. Ibid, 199. [back]

  16. Ibid, 200. [back]

  17. Weiser, 10. [back]

  18. Saturday vigil Masses are not per se bad (in early Christian Rome they occurred every Ember Saturday); it is the way they are used today that is problematic. [back]

  19. The new Code of Canon Law states that the faithful "are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body" (1247). An excellent formulation, but why not retain the notions of servility and liberality? [back]

  20. The new Catechism has perhaps also conceded too much to our consumerist economy by not speaking with sufficient verve against the market's increasing tendency to treat Sunday as any other day. [back]

  21. Celine Martin, The Father of the Little Flower,trans. Michael Collins (Tan Books, 2005), 11-12. [back]

  22. The Bari Homily (footnote 1). [back]

  23. For a good laugh, see Gerald Flurry, "The Pope Trumpets Sunday," The Trumpet (November 2005) [retrieved November 2009]. [back]
[Michael P. Foley is associate professor of patristics at Baylor University. He is author of Wedding Rites: A Complete Guide to Traditional Vows, Music, Ceremonies, Blessings, and Interfaith Services(Eerdmans, 2008) and Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday?: The Catholic Origin to Just About Everything(Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Foley's article, "Undoing the Dismal: Liberating Sunday's Soul," Latin Mass: The Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition Vol. 18, No. 2 (Spring 2009), pp. 32-35, is reproduced here by kind permission of Latin Mass, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Weigel speaking for Peter?

Here is Rorate Caeli with a bit of "attitude" (November 23, 2009):
The Pope

Uh... no, wait, wrong picture.

Mr. Weigel's recent note on the Holy See-SSPX dialogue is just so authoritative and peremptory that one could be forgiven for believing that the man speaks for Peter.
Whether readers of Rorate Caeli found the post wicked, or wickedly funny, as I did, the issues are serious and the post has succeeded in garnering well over 80 comments in the space of two days.

Bowing again! Obama's kowtowing gets U.S. nowhere

Post-American President: "Thank you for letting me let you be yourself, uh-huh."

"Obama Bows Before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao" (Drudge Report, November 24, 2009)

Gabor Steingart,"Obama's Nice Guy Act Gets Him Nowhere on the World Stage" (Der Spiegel, November 23, 2009):
When he entered office, US President Barack Obama promised to inject US foreign policy with a new tone of respect and diplomacy. His recent trip to Asia, however, showed that it's not working. A shift to Bush-style bluntness may be coming.... Barack Obama looked tired on Thursday ... He also seemed irritable and even slightly forlorn.

... The mood in Obama's foreign policy team is tense following an extended Asia trip that produced no palpable results. The "first Pacific president," as Obama called himself, came as a friend and returned as a stranger....

In Tokyo, the new center-left government even pulled out of its participation in a mission which saw the Japanese navy refueling US warships in the Indian Ocean as part of the Afghanistan campaign. In Beijing, Obama failed to achieve any important concessions whatsoever.... The White House did not even stand up for itself when it came to the question of human rights in China.... Even the president seems to have lost his faith in a genial foreign policy....

There are many indications that the man in charge at the White House will take a tougher stance in the future. Obama's advisors fear a comparison with former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, even more than with Bush. Prominent Republicans have already tried to liken Obama to the humanitarian from Georgia, who lost in his bid to win a second term, because voters felt that he was too soft. "Carter tried weakness and the world got tougher and tougher because the predators, the aggressors, the anti-Americans, the dictators, when they sense weakness, they all start pushing ahead," Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker in the House of Representatives, recently said. And then he added: "This does look a lot like Jimmy Carter."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Clarity in Blessings: A Comparison of the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms of the Roman Ritual – Part 1 of 3

Tridentine Community News (November 22, 2009):
Which of the following fits your concept of a blessing better?

Extraordinary Form
℣. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
℟. Who made heaven and earth.
℣. The Lord be with you.
℟. And with your spirit.
Let us pray.
O God, whose word suffices to make all things holy, pour out Thy blessing + on this object (these objects); and grant that anyone who uses it (them) with grateful heart and in keeping with Thy law and will, may receive from Thee, its (their) Maker, health in body and protection of soul by calling on Thy holy name.Through Christ our Lord.
℟. Amen.
[It (they) is (are) sprinkled with Holy Water.]

Ordinary Form
℣. Lord, show us your mercy and love.
℟. And grant us your salvation.
[A short passage of sacred Scripture is read.]
℣. May the merciful Lord enliven and strengthen by his blessing + the spirit of devotion and filial love in your hearts, so that you may walk blamelessly through this life and happily reach life everlasting.
℟. Amen.

The former is the Blessing of All Things from the 1961 edition of the Extraordinary Form Rituále Románum. The latter is the counterpart Blessing of Religious Articles from the 1989 edition of the Book of Blessings, the English edition of the De Benedictiónibus volume of the Ordinary Form Roman Ritual. [There is no general blessing of non-religious articles in the latter, – an unfortunate omission.]

You would not be the only person to be confused by the second form. Where in that prayer is the religious article actually blessed? In fairness, the Book of Blessings also includes this simpler, yet more specific “short formulary” to be used by a priest or deacon “in special circumstances”:

℣. May this (name of article) and the one who uses it be blessed, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.
℟. Amen.

Next, let’s compare the Blessing of Automobiles:

Extraordinary Form
℣. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
℟. Who made heaven and earth.
℣. The Lord be with you.
℟. And with your spirit.
Let us pray.
Graciously hearken to our prayers, O Lord God, and with Thy holy hand bless + this vehicle. Appoint as its custodians Thy holy Angels, ever to guard and keep safe from all danger them that ride herein. And as by Thy Levite, Philip, Thou didst bestow faith and grace upon the Ethiopian, seated in his carriage, and reading Holy Writ, so likewise show the way of salvation to Thy servants that, strengthened by Thy grace and constantly intent upon good works, they may attain, after the vicissitudes of this life, the happiness of everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord.
℟. Amen.
[It is then sprinkled with Holy Water.]

Ordinary Form
℣. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
℟. Who made heaven and earth.
[A short passage of sacred Scripture is read.]
℣. All-powerful God, Creator of heaven and earth, in the rich depths of your wisdom, you have empowered us to produce great and beautiful works. Grant, we pray, that those who use this vehicle may travel safely, with care for the safety of others. Whether they travel for business or pleasure, let them always find Christ to be the companion of their journey, who lives and reigns with you for ever and ever.
℟. Amen.

The latter seems banal and trite in comparison with the former. It quasi-blesses the people using the object, without blessing the object itself. The users of an object, if mentioned at all, should be the secondary, not primary thing being blessed. What we presently have might more accurately be called a “Blessing of Motorists”.

Holy Water

The Book of Blessings has three options for the Blessing of Holy Water. None of the three bless the water itself. The first two are quasi-blessings of the people who use the Holy Water. The only phrase in the third option that resembles a blessing is this declarative statement: “Let this water call to mind our baptism into Christ, who has redeemed us by his death and resurrection.” There is no exorcism or admixture of salt, nor is there an exorcism of the water. In contrast, the Extraordinary Form Blessing of Holy Water incorporates an exorcism of salt, an exorcism of the water, and multiple signs of the Cross during prayers that clearly purify and bless the Holy Water.

Salt itself is not explicitly referenced in the Book of Blessings. The index at the back of the book refers the reader looking for the Blessing of Salt to the general Blessing of Food. Despite its purifying properties, salt no longer seems to have a role in the blessings, or in the Sacrament of Baptism, of the Ordinary Form.
[Comments? Please e-mail Previous columns are available at This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for November 22, 2009. Hat tip to A.B.]

Yesss!! Christian Europe finally pushing back

Hilary White, "Italian Mayors Order Crufixes Put in Classrooms in Revolt against European Court Ruling" (, November 17, 2009):
Poland's president, Lech Kaczynski and the leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church have both hit out at a decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) attempting to ban the display of crucifixes in Italian public schools. At the same time, a general revolt against the ruling in municipalities all over Italy has been started by public officials, who are now ordering the display of crucifixes in schools, and levelling fines for non-compliance.
[Hat tip to M.H.]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Who's worried about the swine flu?

"Million Hit by 'Plague Worse than Swine Flu'" (Daily Express, UK, November 19, 2009):
A deadly plague could sweep across Europe, doctors fear, after an outbreak of a virus in Ukraine plunged the country and its neighbours into a state of panic.

A cocktail of three flu viruses are reported to have mutated into a single pneumonic plague, which it is believed may be far more dangerous than swine flu.

... Universities, schools and kindergartens have been closed, public meetings have been banned and theatres shut. Last week several border crossings in the country were also closed.

... A doctor in Western Ukraine who did not want to be named, said:” We have carried out post mortems on two victims and found their lungs are as black as charcoal.

“They look like they have been burned. It’s terrifying.”
[Hat tip to A.D.]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Three Natural Laws of Catholic Church Architecture

By Michael S. Rose

One basic tenet that architects have accepted for millennia is that the built environment has the capacity to affect the human person deeply -- the way he acts, the way he feels, and the way he is. Church architects of past and present understood that the atmosphere created by the church building affects not only how we worship, but also what we believe. Ultimately, what we believe affects how we live our lives. It's difficult to separate theology and ecclesiology from the environment for worship, whether it's a traditional church or a modern church. If a Catholic church building doesn't reflect Catholic theology and ecclesiology, if the building undermines or dismisses the natural laws of church architecture, the worshiper risks accepting a faith that is foreign to Catholicism.

Architecture isn't inconsequential.

That's why the Code of Canon Law explicitly defines the church building as "a sacred building destined for divine worship" (canon 214). The Catechism of the Catholic Church reiterates this point and goes further by stating that "visible churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ" (#1180).

This is a tall order, to be sure, and the architect today naturally wonders how a mere building can accomplish so much. Fortunately, he doesn't stand alone in a perilous vacuum but has at his command more than fifteen hundred years of his craft on which to reflect.

When he turns to the Church's great architectural heritage, he discovers that from the early Christian basilicas in Rome to the Gothic Revival churches of early 20th-century America, the natural laws of church architecture are adhered to faithfully in the design of successful Catholic churches, buildings that serve both God and man as transcendental structures, transmitting eternal truths for generations to come.

Consider, for example, Notre Dame de Paris, the crowning jewel of Paris, arguably the most famous of Christendom's great cathedral churches. Countless chronicles, poems, novels, and artistic treatments have been devoted to this architectural masterpiece. Yet, considering it's neither the tallest, the biggest, nor even the most beautiful of cathedrals, Notre Dame's universal appeal isn't easily explicable on the natural order.

There's something more.

Even the familiarity acquired from a distance through travel guides, textbooks, magazine articles, movies, and even cartoons doesn't detract from the overwhelming sense of goodness, beauty, and truth that the pilgrim feels on first experiencing the church in person. Its flying buttresses, its stained glass, its great rose window with its delicate bar traceries that resemble the petals of the flower, its richly carved portals, the soaring heights of its columns that flower into barrel vaults, its many shrines and reliquaries, its altars, and the presence of Jesus in the great tabernacle all work together to raise the pilgrim's mind to heavenly things.

In this cathedral, faith is incarnational, just as Catholicism is an incarnational faith -- "the Word became flesh." The kingdom of God is manifest to us, century after century, through the medium of this church building, stone laid upon stone, sculpture after sculpture hewn from rock, built and carved of human hands -- a gospel in stone brought to life.

Notre Dame is easily recognized as art in the noblest sense, architecture of the highest order, a building established as a "sacred place" -- a sacred place that is first of all, a house of God, a place of His earthly habitation, wrought in the fashion of heavenly things.

But what makes it so?

First, Notre Dame is massive and durable, meant to withstand the violence of man and the brutality of nature. It has served as a silent witness to the tumultuous history of France over the past eight hundred years in the heart of its grand capital. It has stood as a survivor of many epochs, witnessing to the permanence of the Gospel and Christian society, despite the secularization of almost everything around the great cathedral. The edifice has transcended both time and culture -- not an easy feat. It is a permanent structure.

Second, the heavenly and eternal are evoked through the soaring heights of the cathedral's interior spaces, made possible by the many elements of the Gothic structural system (pointed arches, flying buttresses, and vaulted ceilings, for instance). Thus, it is a vertical structure.

Third, the grand cathedral is "brought to life" as a gospel in stone through its many works of sacred art, those beautifully crafted representations, both figural and symbolic, that point well beyond themselves to religious truths. In other words, Notre Dame presents an iconographic architecture. The pilgrim can almost hear the patriarch Jacob, after his dream of angels ascending to and descending from Heaven, announcing, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of Heaven" (Gen. 28:17).

The Three Natural Laws of Church Architecture

Churches of every century -- grand and small, in large cities, small towns, and rural settings -- have achieved what Notre Dame has achieved through faithful adherence to these natural laws.

Yes, the results are manifested in individual styles, products of a particular time and place, each of which the Church has gladly admitted into her treasury of sacred architecture. Yet each also serves as a house of God that looks to the past, serves the present, and informs the future.

How do they achieve this?

In every case, these successful church buildings firmly establish a sacred place to be used for worship of the triune God, both in private devotion and in public liturgy, and they make Christ's presence firmly known in their surroundings.

In every case, they conform to the three natural laws of verticality, permanence, and iconography, as exemplified in Notre Dame Cathedral. These natural laws are perhaps taken for granted by many, yet, for those who seek to understand how Catholic churches ought -- and ought not -- to be built, they're the most obvious starting points, primarily because these qualities create the proper atmosphere for worshiping God.

Without the qualities of verticality, permanence, and iconography, Notre Dame wouldn't have established itself as a sacred place; we wouldn't know it today. If it didn't adhere to the natural laws of church architecture, Notre Dame wouldn't exist today in any meaningful way. Lacking verticality, the cathedral wouldn't have inspired us toward the otherworldly; it wouldn't have effectively served as the soul of medieval Paris, let alone the present metropolis; nor would it have effectively made Christ and His Church present and active in the French capital. Without permanence, the building would have been destroyed by barbarians or revolutionaries centuries ago. Devoid of iconography, Notre Dame would never have attracted pilgrims to this gospel in stone.

Therefore, let's consider more closely each of these three natural laws, which are indispensable to successful Catholic church architecture.

A Catholic Church Must Have Permanence

The church building, representing Christ's presence in a particular place, is also necessarily a permanent structure -- "Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8) -- conceived in theory and practice "with a firm foundation." So, too, is the Catholic Church enduring and permanent, transcending space and time.

The medieval canonist Bishop Gulielmus Durandus (A.D. 1220-1296) reminds us that the Church is built with all strength, "upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. Her foundations are in the holy mountains" (Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, #27). The permanence of our church structures reflects these qualities of the universal Church. And just as verticality points to the heavenly and the eternal, so too does the requisite principle of permanence. It's another way in which architects create an atmosphere of transcendence.

Nineteenth-century architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc writes of Notre Dame that "everyone who understands construction will be amazed when he sees what numberless precautions are resorted to in the execution -- how the prudence of the practical builder is combined with the daring of the artist full of power and inventive imagination" (Dictionary of French Architecture, 1854). Viollet-le-Duc refers to the permanence of what has become known to us as the Gothic structural system, an ingenious method of building that lends itself both to verticality -- soaring heights enabled by the unique system of buttressing -- and permanence.

The Gothic churches constructed in Europe throughout the medieval centuries can't be accused of being cheap, tawdry structures doomed to decay. Structures such as Notre Dame were conceived as solid and enduring temples, perpetual reminders of Christ's presence active in the world. The same can be said of most churches built in the early Christian, Romanesque, Byzantine, Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical styles.

There are several ways a church can assert its permanence. First, and most obvious, is by its durability. The church, a building that will serve generation after generation, transcending time and culture, must be constructed of durable materials. Typically, one or another type of masonry construction is used, employing the finest materials available.

Related to durability is massing: The church must be of significant mass, built with solid foundations, thick walls, and allowing for generous interior spaces. This massing is another aspect of the architectural language of churches. It's integral to both verticality (the massing of volumes upward creates verticality) and iconography (the massing of the church helps it convey its iconic meaning).

Third is continuity. Churches whose design grows organically out of the past two millennia of churches identify themselves with the life of the Church throughout those two millennia and, by their continuity with the history and tradition of Catholic church architecture, manifest in another way the permanence of the faith.

In other words, to convey that aspect of permanence rooted in continuity, the architectural language of churches must develop organically throughout time, such as when the language of the Renaissance churches per­mutated into the Baroque language, or when the Goth­ic forms emerged from the language of the Romanesque. In both cases, the growth of the language was organic. The style may have changed, as when the semicircular arch gave way to the pointed arch. But there was no sudden break with tradition, no disregard for the churches of past centuries (arches were as much a part of the Gothic language as the Romanesque). Architects built on what they knew from the past, refining certain aspects of the language and developing others.

Architects of future generations need to comprehend the language of church architecture in order to build permanent sacred edifices for their own times and future centuries. No successful church architect must be -- or even pretend to be -- ignorant of the Church's historical patrimony. Continuity demands that a successful church design can't spring from the whims of man or the fashion of the day. An authentic Catholic church building is a work of art that acknowledges the previous greatness of the Church's architectural patrimony: It refers to the past, serves the present, and informs the future.

A Catholic Church Must Have Verticality

In contrast to most other buildings, the successful church is so constructed that the vertical element dominates the horizontal. The soaring heights of its spaces speak to us of reaching toward Heaven, of transcendence -- bringing the heavenly Jerusalem down to us through the medium of the church building. It's no coincidence that the liturgical text for the dedication of a church is taken from John's vision of the celestial Jerusalem: "And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold the dwelling of God with men'" (Rev. 21:2-3).

According to John's words, the interior spaces of the church ought to be characterized by a dramatic sense of height -- in a word, verticality. It's a fact of human experience that verticality, the massing of volumes upward, most readily creates an atmosphere of transcendence and in turn enables man to create a building that expresses a sense of the spiritual and the heavenly. It's this transcendence that makes sacred architecture possible.

The building's architectural elements -- such as windows, columns, buttresses, and sacred art -- should reinforce this heavenward aspiration. Likewise, the articulation of the ceiling should further create a sense of reaching toward the heavenly Jerusalem through the use of mosaics, murals, and coffering, as well as by incorporating the mysterious play of natural light into the body of the church.

Consider also that the early Christians, prior to the Constantinian era, solemnized the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in inconspicuous places -- most likely in homes and sometimes in the catacombs -- that had no recourse to an emphasized verticality. Yet once Constantine legalized public Christian worship, the Christians quickly adopted the basilica form, in which spaces were emphatically vertical and conspicuous. Not only did the soaring spaces of such structures lend themselves to symbolizing the reaching toward God and toward things heavenly, it also represented a kingly nobility, for the basilica was the Roman "House of the King," fittingly adapted as the House of the King of Kings.

It is difficult to visualize the kind of spaces that would be created if the ceilings in such grand churches as Notre Dame, St. Peter's Basilica, or Constantinople's Hagia Sophia were lowered to, say, twelve feet -- or even thirty feet. Despite the exemplary iconography and permanence of these structures, they would fall drastically short -- literally -- as sacred places, as houses of God, if their building's proportions were reduced to reflect an emphasis on the horizontal rather than on the vertical.

This need to emphasize the reaching toward the heavens was primarily what inspired Gothic builders to develop a structural system that allowed for even greater soaring spaces. The Gothic architect knew that without an emphasized verticality, the church is emasculated, its raison d'être subverted.

A Catholic Church Must Have Iconography

The third requisite principle is that of iconography, which speaks specifically to the "sign" value of the building.

First, the structure itself ought to be an icon. This is accomplished primarily through its form and its relation to the surrounding environment, whether urban or rural. For example, the church building shouldn't be hidden but integrated into the neighborhood and landscape so that its location reminds us of the building's importance and purpose.

Second, the worthy church building presents an iconography that points beyond itself. Thomas Aquinas realized that man's mind is raised to contemplation through material objects. St. Ignatius Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises (1548), likewise stressed the importance of visualizing the subjects of meditation: Painting, sculpture, and architecture are meant to work together to produce a unified effect.

Thus, it is here that these works of art, the material objects that are effective to this end, with their reliance on the breadth of religious symbolism, come into play. Architectural beauty should reflect God's creation -- particularly man, who is created in the image and likeness of God. It should beget an environment that lifts man's soul from secular things and brings it into harmony with the heavenly.

Architect Ralph Adams Cram wrote over one hundred years ago in his book Church Building, "Art has been, is, and will be forever, the greatest agency for spiritual impression that the Church may claim." It is for this reason, he adds, that art is in its highest manifestation the expression of religious truths. It is through art that Christians have developed the ingenious symbolism that raises our faculties of soul to God.

The tradition of iconography and symbolism in Catholic culture is broad and rich. Meaning is conveyed through formal elements, from basic geometric shapes to figural imagery to literal representation of people or scenes, as in sculpture or paintings. The meanings conveyed through a church's iconographic programs are most typically that of religious truths or historical events of religious significance. They are always expressions of the Catholic faith.

For instance, the masters of the Catholic counter-reformation -- inspired by churchmen such as St. Ignatius and St. Charles Borromeo -- expressed the Catholic faith in the very birth of their art by means of elaborate high altars and tabernacles, special niche and aisle shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to the saints, prominent pulpits for preaching, and an abundance of art in glass, sculpture, mosaic, and painting devised to teach the truths necessary for salvation. The atmosphere created on this model is one of religious mystery wherein we can experience a little of the unearthly joy of the New Jerusalem, where we can encounter Christ in a unique way.

These iconographic churches, these icons, tell the story of Christ and His Church. They teach, catechize, and illustrate the lives of the Church's saintly souls. They manifest eternal and transcendental truths.

Again, if we look to Notre Dame, we understand easily how a pilgrim can spend days -- even weeks -- meditating on the mysteries that are "enfleshed" in the architecture of the cathedral's sculptural programs. A student of the Church may spend months and years reflecting on the ingenuity and beauty of the Catholic truths revealed in the art and architecture of this gospel in stone. Ordinary laymen too are drawn into the church, into the house of God, attracted by the iconography of this medieval edifice, which still speaks clearly to us today, more than eight hundred years after its construction.

This is possible only because architecture has the capacity to carry meaning. A church building is a "vessel of meaning" with the greatest of symbolic responsibilities: It must bear the significance of eternal truths that are transmitted through its material form, its adorning architectural elements, and its sacred works of art. These elements -- indeed the whole of the church edifice -- must create an otherworldly feel that inspires man to worship God, to humble himself before his Creator, to partake in the sacred mysteries, and to focus himself on the eternal. Iconography is yet another way -- perhaps the most direct and efficacious way -- to achieve a transcendent architecture.

These three natural laws of church architecture -- verticality, permanence, and iconography -- transcend the different epochs of Christianity; they are qualities present in all the truly great churches of Christendom. They are the foundation, as it were, on which good church architects build churches that succeed in becoming for their own time and for all generations gates of Heaven and worthy houses of God.

Michael S. Rose, Associate Editor of the NOR, is the author of six books, including Ugly as Sin,which was recently released in paperback by Sophia Institute Press (1-800-888-9344;, and from which this article is excerpted.

The foregoing article by Michael S. Rose, "The Three Natural Laws of Catholic Church Architecture," was originally published in
New Oxford Review (September 2009), pp. 28-34, and is reproduced here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How low can you go ... what a brother don't know

John Steele Gordon, "The President Who Grovels" (Commentary, November 14, 2009), writes:
Could someone in the Chief of Protocol’s Office at the State Department please tell Barack Obama that heads of state do not bow to other heads of state? And for the head of state of the country founded on the idea that “all men are created equal,” that goes double.

When Obama bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the White House denied it: “It wasn’t a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he’s taller than King Abdullah,” said one aide. As a commentator on CNN said, “Ray Charles could see that he bowed.” (h/t PowerLine)

Now he has bowed, extravagantly, to Emperor Akihito of Japan. The Los Angeles Times called it a “wow bow” in its headline and asked “How low will he go?”

President Obama goes abroad apologizing for the supposed sins of a country that defended and extended freedom around the world at a staggering cost in lives and treasure and then grovels before the man whose country has yet to apologize for the Rape of Nanking.

As my mother used to say, “Pardon me while I throw up.”
Some Western journalists are speculating that those who have trouble with Mr. Obama's gesture are limited to foam-at-the-mouth American right wingers, and that it may be warmly received in Japan where such gestures of humility, it is thought, have been long respected. I spent my first twenty years in Japan. I should know.

There is indeed a popular saying among the older generation in Japan, which suggests that a person is respected being humble -- because his "atama ga hikui" (literally: because he "has a low head"). Yet you can't simply extract this gesture from its Confucian cultural context and tradition and expect to properly apply it in the abstract.

If you watch people bow to one another in Japan, it is a delicate ritual. If people have exchanged name cards the process is assisted by the fact that each knows the relative rank of the other and how deeply it would be appropriate or inappropriate to bow. Rank is a deeply complicated affair involving gender, relative age, profession, and a host of other relationships cataloged by Confucius. If one doesn't know the rank of the other, the undertaking is a bit dicier, and each party carefully eyes the other while making his best intuitive judgment of how deep a bow is appropriate, each party typically repeating the bows until they come to some sort of unstated mutual consensus.

Thus the idea that an American president should baldly waltz up to the Emperor of Japan and greet him with a profoundly deep bow, bending almost double, exhibits nothing so much as silliness. However well-intentioned it may be, it shows utter lack of judgment. Why? Because there is no proper inter-cultural, international context for such a bow. Mr. Obama is neither Emperor Akihito's subject nor a Confucian, and I do not think he believes him divine -- a title that was abrogated after the Second World War. This is simply not the way a contemporary head of state greets another, even if he is royalty. A shake of the hand with a slight bow of the head would have been ample and appropriate. But within a Japanese context, Mr. Obama's gesture comes closer to the manner in which a vastly inferior Japanese subject would bow to his Emperor, or perhaps someone out of the Emperor's good graces seeking his mercy or pardon. Hence, it was an altogether inept and inordinate gesture for a head of state.

Mr. Obama was probably merely trying to show courtesy and respect for a venerated national Japanese figurehead. I am sure the Emperor was graciously indulgent -- just as the Queen of England was with Michelle Obama's pats on her back; yet I am no less certain that the gesture felt awkward to them. Here comes running another stupid gaijin (foreigner) who simply does not know his manners. Well, at least he's bowing and not high-fiving the Emperor, so I am quite certain they were happy to smile at the poor spoiled and abysmally untutored and inexperienced boy president. Let's hope he didn't try to give the Emperor some sort of electronic gadget. That would have been a fatal coffin nail.

I must say it strikes me odd how "into" these sorts of international gestures Mr. Obama is, when I consider how little he is "into" such gestures as laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknowns the other day at the Arlington National Cemetery, a fact amply clear from his awkwardly stiff and impatient body language.

[Hat tip to C.B.]

"Don't be a buzzkill, Jesus"

Our HBCU correspondent we keep on retainer just wired in this item about the Sara Evans album, "I'll Be Home for Christmas," as a pre-holiday heads-up. He writes:

"Somehow, on an Xmas Ep with 4 songs, one of which feature words sung as if spoken by Jesus himself, methinks this jacket photo epitomizes how religion in the U.S. has been hijacked by Oprah-ism, self-referentialism and the Faith Hill-ified 'If You Got It, Flaunt It' philosophy. Hey, Merry Christmas. It's All Good... Sheesh, chill out there, Jesus. Grab an eggnog or something, but don't be a buzzkill..."

[Hat tip to J.M.]

The Extraordinary Form of Confirmation

Tridentine Community News (November 15, 2009):
In two weeks, on Sunday, November 29, Archbishop Allen Vigneron will administer the Sacrament of Confirmation according to the Extraordinary Form at St. Josaphat Church following the 9:30 AM Mass. This will be the first time in approximately 40 years that Confirmation will be administered in this manner in metropolitan Detroit and Windsor.

In preparation for this historic event, today we are running an updated edition of a previously-run column describing the Tridentine Form of Confirmation.

A bishop is the ordinary minister of the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Holy See has issued regulations permitting a priest to administer Confirmation under certain circumstances, such as if a person is at the point of death. For the purposes of this discussion, we will only address the typical situation of a bishop conferring Confirmation, as it is safe to assume that most of those devoted to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass would have a strong preference for a bishop performing this function.

The Sacrament of Confirmation imparts an indelible seal on the soul. It imparts the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. The candidate must have been baptized and should be in the state of grace. The place of the ceremony, inside or outside of Mass, is not specified, and thus is left to local custom.

The bishop traditionally enters the church accompanied by the antiphon Ecce Sacérdos Magnus (Behold a great priest). When one is available – which will not be the case this time – the bishop may wear the cappa magna, a long cape somewhat akin to a bridal train, during the procession. Upon arrival at the altar, the bishop traditionally intones the Veni Creátor, invoking the Holy Ghost. He then delivers the Catechetical Instruction to the candidates.

The candidates kneel while the bishop begins, “May the Holy Ghost come down upon you, and may the power of the Most High keep you from sin.” With his hands extended over the candidates, he says a prayer invoking the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost. Each pair of sponsor and candidate comes forth; the candidate kneels before the bishop, and the sponsor places his or her right hand on the candidate’s right shoulder.

Dipping his thumb into the Holy Chrism and tracing the Sign of the Cross onto the forehead of the candidate, the bishop recites the essential form of the Sacrament: “N., signo te signo Cru+cis et confírmo te Chrísmate salútis. In nómine Pa+tris, et Fí+lii, et Spíritus + Sancti.” (N., I seal you with the sign of the Cross and I confirm you with the Chrism of salvation. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.) The confirmed responds: “Amen.” The bishop lightly strikes the confirmed upon the cheek, saying: “Pax tecum” (Peace be with you). No response is made.

The bishop wipes the forehead of the confirmed with cotton after the anointing. This cotton is later burned and the ashes disposed of in the sacrárium of the church, or into the soil outside.

The bishop then washes his hands as the antiphon Confírma hoc, Deus is sung: “Confirm, O God, what Thou hast wrought in us, from Thy holy temple which is in Jerusalem.”

While the confirmed all kneel, the bishop recites a prayer asking that the Holy Ghost may come “down upon those whose foreheads we have annointed with the holy Chrism, and signed with the sign of the holy Cross, [and] by His gracious indwelling make them a temple of His glory.” He says a concluding prayer, followed by a special blessing.

The bishop sits down, puts on his mitre, and addresses the sponsors on their duties. The confirmed recite aloud the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father, and the Hail Mary. The bishop then gives the Pontifical Blessing, after which the Te Deum or Psalm 112 (Laudáte Púeri) is customarily sung as a recessional.

The Ordinary Form of Confirmation, in comparison, begins with a reading from the Acts of the Apostles. A brief homily is given, followed by the Renewal of Baptismal Promises. The Laying on of Hands and the Anointing are similar, although no posture is specified for the candidates. In practical matters, this usually means that the candidates stand before the bishop. Some General Intercession-like prayers follow, then the confirmed recite the Our Father, and the bishop imparts a blessing.

The content of the Sacrament of Confirmation is rather similar between the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms. Perhaps this is why one sees less debate about the wording of the Novus Ordo Form. [Accompanying photo of Raleigh Bishop Michael Burbidge administering Confirmation in the Extraordinary Form in April, 2009, by Nick Aul]

Rehearsal Next Sunday

All candidates and sponsors for the Sacrament of Confirmation are requested to assemble in the front pews of St. Josaphat Church immediately following the 9:30 AM Tridentine Mass next Sunday, November 22. A brief rehearsal of the ceremony will be conducted.
[Comments? Please e-mail Previous columns are available at This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for November 15, 2009. Hat tip to A.B.]

Monday, November 09, 2009

"Tolle Lege" this! Catholic Bible Scholarship since V-II

"Let's be blunt. Catholic Biblical scholarship since Vatican II hasn't been just bad. It's been a disaster."

So begins Joe Martin's rapid-fire review of The Church And The Bible: Official Documents of the Catholic Church,edited by Dennis J. Murphy, MSC (St. Pauls; Alba House; 2nd rev. enl. ed., 2007) and Aidan Nichols' Lovely, Like Jerusalem: The Fulfillment of the Old Testament in Christ and the Church(Ignatius Press, 2007).

Joe Martin, "A Good Commentary is (not) Hard to Find: On Bible Scholars + Scholarship, Lovely and Otherwise" [click on "Download" to call up the PDF file], continues:
Most of what is written encourages skepticism, despite avowals of allegiance to “the analogy of faith.” And for all the bowing at the altar of “the indispensable results of Higher Criticism,” does anyone honestly believe guys like Raymond E. Brown have helped versus hurt belief in the essential veracity of Scripture? Does anyone really think that The New Jerome Commentary, when it tries to tear Biblical books into umpteen scraps of parchment by umpteen anonymous authors, would make its namesake happy?

Instead, what unfortunately comes to mind when surveying the Catholic landscape is this indictment from an old Protestant evangelist: “When Satan gets into the pulpit, or the theological chair, and pretends to teach Christianity, when in reality he is corrupting it… pretends to be teaching Biblical Introduction, when, in reality he is making the Bible out to be a book that is not worthy of being introduced -- then look out for him; he is at his most dangerous work” (R.A. Torrey, What the Bible Teaches, 517).

Off-putting Fundamentalist hyperbole? Before you summarily dismiss such characterizations, consider how most Catholic schools can demolish students’ faith after only one semester in Biblical studies. Or better yet, suppress your ‘RadTrad’ prejudices for a few more minutes and read the vilified Fr. Brian Harrison over at Christian Order. Or, taste the offerings of a Catholic publisher as compared to the academically challenging but still faith-affirming offerings from Inter-Varsity Press. Even San Francisco’s normally topflight Ignatius Press for a while marketed an Old Testament Introduction -- A Consuming Fire -- that seemed to consign traditional authorship theories to the furnace as often as not (no surprise that it quickly fell out of print). Things are so bad that when the Pope himself writes a book that simply confirms his belief in the basic New Testament narrative, the first response from the faithful is what? A collective sigh of relief!

But on the horizon there are intermittent flashes of light. For starters, Ignatius Press is now readying the New Testament installment of Scott Hahn’s Ignatius Catholic Study Bible.Hahn is nothing short of a phenomenon, a sort of one man counter-assault on the faux Biblical studies hoisted upon us by a liberal zeitgeist in the ugly fallout from Vatican II. This guy also honestly believes in Inerrancy. The kind confirmed by "Providentissimus Deus" … Yes, way! Hahn is so congenially and over-the-top orthodox -- and so beyond what many have hoped or prayed for -- that his sales prove readers ready to forgive even his unending stream of painful puns.

Then there is The Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture,a new series from Baker Academic (Baker being one of the Big Three of Grand Rapids' formidable Calvinistic publishing triumverate, but any port in a storm, right?). The two launch volumes are marked by unimaginative jackets and the crass pull-quote and graphic-heavy page layouts that pop culture demands. But with an A-list of proposed authors, the project also promises to consistently take the Bible’s writers at their word - so we’ll take it.

The Navarre Bibleis an imposing series originating in Spain under the auspices of Opus Dei. With that Dan Brown-like intriguing association, you'd think the English versions would be hot property in American bookstores post TDC--and you'd be wrong. In fact, you won't spot them in mainstream venues. Which is too bad, given the commentaries' attractive design, generous quotations from saints (especially Escriva), *and* parallel English/Latin Scripture columns... Or maybe it's the presence of that little-loved Latin that explains their scarcity? Anyway, the books can be as friendly as the current Pontifical Biblical Commission when it comes to dated source theories, but they are also thoroughly Catholic, fare well enough in translation, and have a nice devotional bent. Verdict? Supernumerary approved.

And from genteel Charlottesville, Robert Louis Wilken is shepherding, at snail’s pace, The Church's Bible. The three volumes to date in this series promise a patristic resourcement project that would do Henri de Lubac proud. If, that is, it could only gather more steam. In the meantime, Catholics who hold their noses can avail themselves instead of Inter Varsity’s Ancient Christian Commentaryseries, a project animated by a similar intent (if also marked by predictable Evangelical blinders, as Robin Darling Young -- apparently having a bad day -- pointed out [eliciting lively discussion at First Things]).

Some of the most striking signs of life come from two recent volumes that never seem to have quite registered on the radar. The Church And The Bible: Official Documents of the Catholic Church,edited by Dennis J. Murphy, MSC, originated in India, an apostolate that appears healthier for its distance from the florid vocabulary of disbelief often floated in American seminaries. It’s a fat doorstop of a book claiming to collect all the official documents on Scripture, up to and including recent addresses by John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Everything’s been freshly translated, but otherwise there’s nothing very new there. What is arrestingly new to anyone familiar with the climate of scholarship over the past forty years is the attitude reflected in two of the editor’s lengthy essays:

"Exegetes or theologians carried away by an earlier enthusiasm may find it difficult to be open to a new one or to the re-emergence, even in modified forms, of ideas that they had earlier rejected,” warns Murphy. But “current, widely accepted opinions in theology and exegesis also need to be wary of various subtle and not so subtle forms of authoritarianism.” Can we get an A-men?

“If we can put aside our prejudices and return to [older encyclicals and pronouncements of the Pontifical Biblical Commission] and their history, they may help us avoid two extremes: an enclosed mutual-admiration-society of either the right or the left; and a consequence of that -- failure to respect the academic right of other points of view to exist.” Even more, “The hopes and fears that earlier generations… had about the study of the Bible in general and the historical-critical method in particular” may have had more merit than today’s academic guild cares to admit. “It is only by looking into the past as well as into the present that we can see whether those fears were true or baseless, exaggerated or clear-sighted; and above all whether we have furthered the hopes that Pope Gregory expressed… ‘Seek, I beg you, to meditate every day on the words of your Creator. Learn the heart of God in the words of God.’’’

A helpful guide toward that end would be a second recent book, Lovely, Like Jerusalem,a literate and concise introduction to the Old Testament. Aidan Nichols, OP, meets Pope Gregory’s clarion call with a modest trumpet blast of his own, calling Bible-believing Catholics back to sanity as Frank Sheed would have defined it, to read the text with an eye for what is really there. It’s hard to recall any priest since Hubert Von Zeller [see bibliography below] whose writing on the Old Testament text seems so matter-of-factly helpful and at the same time so spiritually clear-sighted.

When online Ignatius Insight’s Carl Olsen asked Nichols about his heavy reliance on non-Catholic theologians, Nichols was candid. “By the end of the twentieth century Catholic exegesis [had] became indistinguishable from [liberal] Protestant,” he claimed. “Until this situation has changed… the best course of action is to select biblical commentators of whatever denomination whose work seems to accord best with the Catholic understanding of Scripture as found in Tradition.” Considering Nichols heavy usage of Anglican and Evangelical commentators, the appropriate response from Catholic readers here might reasonably be “Ouch!” Nichols essentially disinvites to the party those inappropriately dressed, which in this case means most of the post-sixities Catholic academy. In the past when skeptics expressed bewilderment at Evangelicals’ simplistic Biblical devotion, an oft-heard quip in replay was “Well, that’s what you get for reading someone else’s mail.” Confessional labels notwithstanding, that pretty much seems to reflect something of the sentiment at work here: here is a priest writing for fellow family members in the faith, those who share a real bloodline of belief, and not merely a tenure review board. He recognizes those experts who are striving to see through the eyes of faith, but spends little time amongst those who cannot help but encounter Scripture as a sealed book.

Touching down lightly on the postmodern angst over Genesis, creation, and Mosaic authorship, Nichols says that the “historical minimalism in fashion today in many departments of Old Testament studies is not an adequate basis on which to read Genesis as Scripture….” He continues: “Of course no book of Scripture is history in the sense of a Ph.D. thesis on an historical subject in a modern University. That does not mean it cannot give a reliable account of past events, especially when those events were religiously crucial to the minds of the people whose lives they affected.” With scholarly feet thus firmly planted, he takes readers through the Torah, the Wisdom literature, and the Prophets, stopping as well for a quick scan of the Apocryphal books. His especially strong section on the Psalms as a semitic prayer book should revivify the Mass readings for more than a few readers who subsequently sit through Sunday services.

Because his first reflex is to take Scripture at its word, Nichols’ entire tone comes off in marked contrast to so much critical output, reminding us from just where we have drifted. The Jesuit John Courtney Murray may now have his naysayers for contributions to Vatican II on religious authority and pluralism, but in the old America magazine he also weighed in giving unqualified endorsement to the highly traditional commentaries of Rev. John Steinmueller as “scientific.” Back then, such was the mainstream. Even a bit more recently in 1954 Romano Guardini would give deference to details in Scripture by alluding to “the dignity lent them by the Word of God.” In Lovely Like Jerusalem that attitude is admirably and intelligently reclaimed. A first portent of the sanity comes in the chapter on the Pentateuch, where Nichols appears to recommend Gordon J. Wenham’s fisking of the JEPD hypothesis. But the real shocker is on page 46, where he manages to bring the cocktail chatter at the Catholic Theological Society to an uncomfortable halt by lending an Oxford don’s credibility to the unaskable question: “But was there a Second Isaiah?” Come again? What’s more, in answer he suggests an unblinking negative.

The predictable rejoinder from the zeitgest is typified in one reviewer’s lament: “Where is the honest inquiry here?” (Perhaps Jospeh Fitzmyer could enlist that online poster as a peritus for the oft-imagined Council of Vatican III.) A better assessment is that offered by Matthew Levering on the back jacket: “Other than Pope Benedict XVI, no theologian writing today has mastered so well the approach to Scripture set forth by such giants as Jean Danielou, Louis Bouyer, and Henri de Lubac.” High praise indeed. And warranted.

All of this is provided to pique interest in Nichol’s spiritual introduction to the Old Testament as a precursor to the New. Lovely lives up to its title’s chosen adjective, managing to be interesting, academic, and orthodox all at the same time, Nichols fleshes out why familiarity with the Old Covenant provides the necessary defining backdrop for the New: without such a perspective, the Church itself will remain “opaque” to the believer, and the Mass at the cognitive level more a veiled ritual than a mediating sacrament. What the Bible presents is two testaments, two contents -- but one reality. With Scripture, the Fathers, and an ecumenical consensus as markers, that is the proposition staked out here, one that is both pre- and post-conciliar.

Hans von Balthasar wrote that that “There is no greater unity in the world, according to God’s plan, than that between the Old and the New Covenant, except the unity of Jesus Christ himself who embraces the unity of the covenants in his own unity." And there, concurs Nichols, lies “the tragedy of Israel in a Christian perspective. [She is] doubly isolated. Thanks to her election, she is cut off by her uniqueness from those interrelations of nations and ethnicities that be ‘wholly expressed in philosophical and universal terms.’ But at the same time, by a failure of response to electing grace, she is cut off from her ‘sister people,’ Christians. She is separated from them by her ‘refusal to allow the prophetic principle its transcendent culmination in a fulfillment given by God alone’ … This isolation adversely affects the Church. It is the ‘first and fundamental schism.’"

With Lovely Like Jerusalem, there is -- at least for Catholic readers -- no longer any reason for such a cleavage to exist. Or for a larger audience to miss the salvation pictures foreshadowed in high definition in the O.T. A couple of decades ago Evangelical Edith Schaeffer wrote Christianity Is Jewish. Exercising noble negligence, Nichols here more than substantiates that rather brash-sounding claim. It’s hard to think of a better recent book to suggest for your Want List, especially as Advent approaches. To attempt some improvisational Gen Y Latinization, Tolle Lege this!

For further reading

For the more traditionally-hardwired, the stalwarts at Roman Catholic Books keep a fistful of worthy Old Testament contenders in the ring. These include A.E. Breen’s hefty A General And Critical Introduction To The Study Of Holy Scripture,(1897; rpt. Kessinger Publishing, 2007), Edward Kissane’s The Book of Job,(New York: Sheed and Ward,1946), Hubert Von Zeller’s Isaias,(London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1938), and Mary Ryan’s Key to the Psalms(Liturgical Press, 1957). Also older but on point is John Laux’s Introduction to the Bible(New York: Benziger Brothers, 1938; rpt., Tan Books & Publishers, June 1992)

Back to newer fare, Peter Kreeft’s You Can Understand The Bible(Ignatius Press, 2005) is in many aspects as good as anything he’s ever done, which is saying a lot. Lastly, it would be remiss not to again reference Scott Hahn. He may periodically get pummeled by friendly forces over at New Oxford Review and assorted com boxes, but the bruises have not left him so bereft or bedridden that he has not still been able to grace us all with Doubleday’s Catholic Bible Dictionary(Doubleday, 2009, pictured right). Fifteen plus years earlier Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, poking fun at the smothering number of experts and exactitudes swarming from the pages of Doubleday’s self-consciously definitive definitive Anchor Bible Dictionary,mused that “it may be the case in biblical studies that more and more are saying less and less to fewer and fewer.” Hahn happily has worked at reversing such murky tides, and it’s hard to miss the irony in Doubelday again being the publishing agent. This Dictionary is meaning and message-minded, anchored in orthodox relevance versus pained scholarly skepticism, and sports a classy yet easy to read, large print layout to match its reader-friendly style. Bibliographical references of an extended sort would meet a real need, if also likely fatten it up to a two-volume affair, perhaps explaining their absence. And the actual number of contributors is unclear. So for now we will simply ask Dr. Hahn to pass along thanks for all responsible for such a marvelous gift.
[Joe Martin is Professor of Graphic Design & Communication at Hampton University, where he keeps a watchful eye on students' leading and kerning. He is also completing a dissertation on "A Tale of Two Francises,” a comparative study of the rhetorical apologetics of Francis Schaeffer and Frank Sheed]