Friday, June 29, 2007

The importance of Neoscholasticism for the future of Catholic theology

Scottish Dominican, Fergus Kerr, has written a series of books over the last decade designed to orient readers to contemporary trends. His latest volume is Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians: From Chenu to Ratzinger (Blackwell Publishing, 2006), a fine survey of the figures who contributed to the reshaping of Catholic theology before, during, and after Vatican II. R.R. Reno, professor of theology at Creighton University, has a brilliant review of Kerr's volume in the May 2007 issue of First Things. In what follows, I offer a summary of Kerr's thesis with extensive excerpts from Reno's review.

Kerr's book does not pretend to be a full history of twentieth-century Catholic theology, but a focused analysis of ten figures who came to prominence in the decades surrounding Vatican II. These figures include Marie-Dominique Chenu, Yves Congar, Edward Schillebeeckx, Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Hans Küng, Karl Wojtyla, and Joseph Ratzinger. Reno refers to these men as the leaders of what might be called the "Heroic Generation," because they fundamentally changed the way in which the Church thinks.

This generation -- the "Heroic Generation" -- was a diverse group. They cannot be said to have formed a unified school of thought. Yet, whatever their differences, Kerr agrees, for better or worse, with Walter Kasper's assessment that "there is no doubt that the outstanding event in Catholic theology of our century is the surmounting of neoscholasticism." What interests Kerr, however, is a paradox at the heart of this "Heroic Generation" -- a paradox that Reno says comes into view as Kerr works his way through some of the more interesting and important figures. The paradox, in Reno's words, is this: "The most creative members of the Heroic Generation are now strangely inaccessible to us. Their achievement has been hollowed out -- in part, at least, by its own success. Their revolution destroyed the theological culture that gave vitality and life to their theological projects." (FT, 16).

Reno illustrates this paradox by way of the work of several theologians treated by Kerr, including Bernard Longergan, Henri de Lubac, and Urs von Balthasar.
In Kerr's reading, Longergan was the most serious and disciplined philosophical thinker of the Heroic Generation. And yet what's most revealing is the fate of his work. In a series of articles published in the 1940s, Lonergan offered a brilliant solution to centuries-long debates about grace and freedom. Kerr observes that Longergan's reformulated Thomistic solution guides us away from the contrastive dualisms that have characterized so much of modern philosophy, political theory, and theology.

But brilliant arguments are not the same as intellectual influence.... "Ironically," writes Kerr, "when the articles were reprinted, his reconstruction of Aquinas' theology of grace dropped into a post-Vatican II environment in which younger Catholic theologians barely understood what the debate was ever about." This is the paradox of which I spoke: Longergan was part of the Heroic Generation that rebelled against the limitations and failures of their teachers -- for the sake of the deep judgments about knowledge, freedom, and grace that they shared with their teachers. And the end result was perverse. After effecting a revolution against the limitations of neoscholasticism, Longergan seems to have contributed to the emergence of a new and impoverished theological culture in which his own commitments and insights are unintelligible. What he achieved could not be integrated into the contemporary theological scene.
Longergan was not the only member of the Heroic generation to suffer this fate. As Reno points out, the same fate was suffered by Henri de Lubac, well-known for his important contribution to Catholic theology in the form of a sustained analysis of the relation between nature and grace. When he claimed that the fundamental structure of neoscholasticism was a covert form of modernism, he was in effect directly criticizing the modes of theology that dominated the Church in the first half of the twentieth-century. When de Lubac was silenced by his Jesuit superiors as a result of this in 1950, it did not lead him to embrace the spirit of dissent and innovation following Vatican II, but, rather, sought to dispel what he regarded as a basic misunderstanding of his work by defending the core theological judgments of the neoscholastic tradition he spent his life criticizing. Reno observes:
The message is clear: Readers cannot understand Henri de Lubac's theology of nature and grace unless they know and accept the basic outlines of classical Thomistic theology. Thus the paradox, once again. By the 1980s, Henri de Lubac, the great critic of dry and dusty neoscholasticism, saw that the younger generation needed to be catechized into the standard, baseline commitments of Catholic theology. Ressourcement does not work if students have neither context nor framework in which to place the richness and depth of the tradition. Like Longeragan, de Lubac is characteristic of the Heroic Generation: He helped destroy the theological culture that, however inadequate, provided the context for a proper understanding of his generation's lasting achievements.
At this point in his review of Kerr, Reno introduces a helpful distinction between exploratory and standard theologies. While in most cases the Church trusts in the faithfulness of theologians committed to serve her, She must have more than loyal theologians who undertake exciting new explorations. The Church isn't merely a community of independent speculative scholars, each pursuing his own research agenda. The Church needs teachers and priests to proclaim the Gospel, and in order to carry out this work effectively, She needs theologians, in Reno's words, "committed to developing and sustaining a standard theology, a common pattern of thought, a widely used framework for integrating and explaining doctrine." Otherwise, he says, "theological nuances become idiosyncrasies, and new proposals lack a context for reception." The distinction between exploratory and standardized forms of theology will be readily recognized by any historian of Christian theology:
The first type is creative and personal. It is born out of a loyalty to doctrine, but it is not ecclesially normative. This exploratory theology serves the Church in ways that leaven, extend, and enrich her theological culture -- often by criticizing and questioning the adequacy of the standard views....

The second, or standard, type of theology necessarily appears as more pedestrian. It accepts the vocation of explaining and teaching a widely accepted approach, not innovating so much as improvising, not rejecting and beginning afresh but instead refining and renewing through careful additions, adjustments, and adumbrations of what has been long taught.
With this distinction between exploratory and standard theologies in view, we can begin to understand the paradox of the Heroic Generation in Kerr's account, says Reno. For the most part, the figures surveyed by Kerr exemplify the first, experimental type of theology, which still continues carry a pervasive influence among Catholics. Reno writes:
I think I am typical of my own generation in being trained during my graduate studies, to prize this kind of writing. Smitten by the poetic virtuosity of de Lubac and the conceptual innovations of Balthasar, I was and remain keenly aware of the enriching potential of their work.

What I was not trained to notice is the important role that a widely known, standard theology plays in a healthy theological culture -- and in this, too, I am typical of American academics. All of us tend to treat neoscholasticism, the standard theology of the early twentieth century, as part of the dead past, and we focus all our attention on mastering and continuing the work of the innovators.
But as Reno observes, a Church can no more function like a debating society than a physics professor can turn over his classroom to endless student discussions. Catholic believers need a baseline, as Leo XIII recognized when he threw his authority behind the 19th century ascendancy of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas in Aeterni Patris (1879). Such a baseline -- a communally received theology -- is necessary in order to have an intellectual grasp of the truth of the faith. Without it, Catholic believers will lack exactly the sort of internally coherent, pervasive theological culture needed for understanding and supporting bold new experiments and fruitful retrievals of past traditions. Reno writes:
But here we also encounter the great limitations of the Heroic Generation. They bitterly opposed the school theology of their day. In his accounts of Chenu, Congar, de Lubac, Rahner, and others, Kerr gives many examples of their dismissive comments, angry denunciations, and mocking characterizations of neoscholasticism.
They viewed neoscholasticism -- the standard theology of their day -- as inept, spiritually bloodless, and hopelessly outmoded, and finally killed it so thoroughly that contemporary students of Catholic theology only know it, in Kerr's words, "as a spectral adversary" to the Heroic Generation they now dutifully study.

The problem, as both Kerr and Reno note, is that while there is much that may be legitimately criticized in neoscholasticism, few students know enough to be able to appreciate and absorb the insights of the Heroic Generation because they lack the necessary knowledge of the earlier standard theology which served as its foil. Without familiarity with the earlier standard theology, the exploratory theology of the Heroic Generation will remain eccentric and imponderable. Without a stable theological culture, innovations come unhinged, and real achievements degenerate into unfruitful posturing. As Reno observes:
The Heroic Generation regularly criticized neoscholasticism for its insensitivity to history. Unfortunately, an easy, reductive historicism is often retailed these days as their greatest insight. They denounced the neoscholastic textbooks as soulless exercises in empty logic -- and now we have a Catholic theology preoccupied with symbol and experience and almost devoid of careful arguments. They tried to reintegrate sacramental life into theology -- and today we are told that the essence of Catholicism is a sacramental imagination. They wanted to overcome a fortress mentality that closed the Church off from the world -- and this has been reduced to a contextualized method that encourages theology simply to restate secular ideas in theological terms.
Reno suggests that the danger of destroying a standard theology without putting anything in its place is most poignant in the case of Hans Urs von Balthasar. As Kerr himself acknowledges, Balthasar is widely regarded as "the greatest Catholic theologian of the century" and clearly had a literary gift and genius of intellect that heightened the paradox of 20th century theology. His profound and abiding insights, by all accounts, should be integrated into the future of Catholic theology. Yet, Balthasar himself does little to provide a foundation for absorbing his contributions. Reno writes:
I remember my first encounters with Balthasar. As a young graduate student I was romanced by his lyrical prose and his extraordinary intellectual creativity....

Balthasar's hyper-Cyrillian Christology and his whirlwind synopses of history, literature, and theology were heady stuff, but, as is always the case with exploratory theology that takes for granted the standard theology of the day, it did little to orient me to the main lines of Catholic theology. In the years leading up to Vatican II, Balthasar made common cause with Karl Rahner and others against the manual theology of the seminaries the the fortress mentality of the hierarchy. Yet, soon after the council, Balthasar published a harsh attack on what he saw as tendencies toward anthropomorphism and secularization in the new sorts of theologies then emerging, tendencies encouraged by Rahner's transcendental approach. What was I to make of this shift in theological alliances? I'm not altogether sure, because, like so much of what Balthasar wrote, the polemics against Rahner lacked the patient engagements with standard modes of theological analysis that are necessary for any work of scholarship to have a pointed and lasting effect.
Reno admits to the existence of exceptions, and he points out that the third part of his book, The theology of Karl Barth, on "The Form and Structure of Catholics Thought," is particularly noteworthy. Balthasar there lays out and defends the underlying logic of Tridentine theology against what Reno calls "Barth's relentless reduction of Catholicism to the double-headed monster of Pelagianism and idolatry." Reno commends it as a tour de force, showing how the central categories of neoscholastic theology -- nature, grace, and the analogia entis -- can be creatively engaged to maximal effect. Whether or not one is interested in Barth, he says, a student of Catholic theology ought to read The Theology of Karl Barth to deepen his understanding of the pervasively soteriological structure and latent Christocentrism of the post-Reformation Catholic tradition that we overlook today. Yet, even here, the problem of the Heroic Generation surfaces, as Reno observes:
Balthasar never followed up on his profound defense of the Christian genius of Tridentine judgments and categories with a disciplined engagement with neoscholasticism, the tradition that carried those judgments and categories forward into the twentieth century. On the contrary, he was one of the Young Turks in the decade prior to Vatican II who offered only criticism, much of it bitter and dismissive, and he launched out in new directions with little regard for the official, mainstream theologies of the day."
Because of this, Reno says that it would never occur to him to assign one of Balthasar's books to a student who wanted an introduction to Catholic theology, any more than one written by Chenu, Congar, de Lubac, or Lonergan. This is not to deny the seminal insights of their work or the profound ways in which it has changed the way in which the Church now views various issues.
But a student today will have a difficult time seeing the importance of their ideas, because the grand exploratory theologies of the Heroic Generation require fluency in neoscholasticism to see and absorb their significance. Or the theories introduce so many new concepts and advance so many novel formulations that, to come alive for students, they require the formation of an almost hermetic school of followers. The cult of Lonerganians is perhaps the clearest example of this type.
The greatest failure of the Heroic Generation, thus, was not any particular theological error or set of errors. Rather, their failure was a culture one that was most likely utterly unanticipated.
Today English-speaking theology is an aimless affair. The post-Vatican II professors who are now retiring and who trained so many of us were themselves students of the Heroic Generation. They perpetuated the myth that nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Catholic theology is a vast desert of dry and dusty theology empty of spiritual significance. Who assigns Joseph Kleutgen, Johann Baptist Franzelin, or Matthias Scheeban; Charles Journet, Cardinal Mercier, or Garrigou-Lagrange? Because of this neglect, the old theological culture of the Church has largely been destroyed, while the Heroic Generation did not, perhaps could not, formulate a workable, teachable alternative to take its place.
The one exception, according to Kerr, is Karl Rahner, who patiently and carefully sought to integrate -- some would say insinuate -- his novel ideas into the standard frameworks of the day. Kerr observes of Rahner, "Whatever revision or innovation he proposed, he wanted to expound in continuity with neoscholasticism, die Schultheologie, which he so often lambasted." Balthasar and others may have criticized the emerging Rahnerian consensus after Vatican II, but the vacuum they created, says Reno, ensured its triumph of his misbegotten, post-Kantian faux scholasticism.

Our current situation, says Reno, is absurd. "Unlike professors in most disciplines, America's theology faculties offer almost no introduction to the basic logic of their subject." Instead, they socialize their students into all the innovations and complexities of the Heroic Generation. But precisely because of the insights offered by the Heroic Generation, Catholic theology cannot afford do without stabilizing baseline of a standard theology. We can profit from the Heroic Generation "only if contemporary Catholic theologians stop idealizing them and teaching their insights as the sum total of Catholic theology -- to say nothing of renouncing the jejune ideal of perpetual exploration and permanent revolution." We need to surmount the now old myth of new beginnings and realize that the Heroic Generation itself achieved so much of permanent value only because its members were formed in a theological culture already defined by a refined, cogent, and considered standard theology. Reno says the he cannot say what a renewed standard theology will look like.
But this much is clear: Instead of current, misguided dismissal of the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century figures, we need a cogent account of the basic shape and structure of the nineteenth-century theologies that gave rise to and were enriched by the first great council of the modern era, Vatican I, and informed the remarkable resistance of Catholicism to so many destructive trends in the modern era.

We need to recover the systematic clarity and comprehensiveness of the neoscholastic synthesis, rightly modified and altered by the insights of the Heroic Generation and their desire for a more scriptural, more patristic, and more liturgical vision of the unity and truth of the Christian faith. We need good textbooks -- however much they might not satisfy a literary genius like Hans Urs von Balthasar and the soul of a poet like Henri de Lubac -- in order to develop an intellectually sophisticated faith.
What is called for in order to overcome the poverty of the present, says Reno, is for our generation to "base its theological vision on a fuller, deeper form of ressourcement, one that discerns the essential continuity of the last two hundered years of Catholic theology." After the rupture with the past created by the Heroic Generation's creativity and exploration -- as necessary and fruitful as some of it may have been -- what we need is a period of consolidation allowing us to integrate its lasting achievements into a renewed standard theology.

Sluggish & recalcitrant Vatican bureaucracy

Paul VI described the Roman Curia in 1967, the year of his reform, as “a pretentious and sluggish bureaucracy, entirely wrapped in rule and ritual, a breeding ground for ambition and sordid antagonism.”

While there are no signs of such a sweeping reform as Paul VI undertook in the fifth year of his pontificate in the present Curia, there is every evidence that it is as hopelessly inert as ever.

Sandro Magister addresses the issue of Vatican inertia in "Roman Curia: The Reform That Isn't There" (www.chiesa, June 29, 2007) writes:
Appointments made at a snail's pace. Documents that are useless or continually delayed. Offices drifting aimlessly. Why the renewal of the Vatican bureaucracy is not a priority for Benedict XVI.
I'm reminded of the words of the 14th century Jewish merchant, Abraham, about the church in Rome to the Archbishop of Paris after returning from a business trip to Rome in Boccaccio's Decameron: "No earthly business that stupid and corrupt could last fourteen weeks. Your Church has lasted fourteen centuries. It must have God behind it." Miserere Domine.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Peace be with you! - Motu Proprio to be published July 7th

Motu Proprio to be published July 7/07" (Inside the Vatican, July 27, 2007)
The report comes from the Vatican correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt, Paul Badde. He reports today that the motu proprio liberating the Tridentine Mass for the entire Catholic Church has been given to about 30 bishops from all over the world in the Sala Bologna of the Apostolic Palace by Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone.
July 7th - the Feastday of Saint Benedict XI.

My prayer is that the publication of this long awaited document be greeted in the spirit of serenity that the Holy Father enjoins upon us -- serene gratitude, with prayers of thanksgiving and intercession for His Holiness.

Rorate Caeli: Motu Proprio updates

[Hat tip to Rorate Caeli]

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Robert Moynihan on liturgy after the Motu Proprio

Dr. Robert Moynihan, "Benedict and the Mass" (Inside the Vatican, Newsflash) -- excerpts:
Some would see the Holy Father’s interest in the old Mass as a matter of cultural taste. His desire for a wider use of the old rite in Latin is seen as something comparable to his interest in classical music. For these people, the issue is often reduced to a question of practicality: the old rite, in Latin, is "impractical" in the 21st century, and so, these people say, it would be unwise to expand its use.

But this is a serious misunderstanding of Benedict’s motivation. He is not concerned with Latin in itself. His respect for the "old Mass" is not a nostalgic cultural attachment to an ancient language. No, Benedict is concerned about the essence of the Mass itself.

And what is that essence? The right worship of God.

... And what is at stake is not a trivial matter. If it were, the Pope wouldn’t have given two years of attention to it, or 25 years as a cardinal to stating repeatedly that there needs to be a "reform of the reform." ...

... The liturgy is not a "side issue." It is a central one; indeed, the central one. It is the little matter (and the Orthodox rightly stress this) of... the divinization of man! A reality which brought Padre Pio to tears.

... And if there are in the "old Mass," as many argue, qualities too hastily discarded in the 1960s -- a sense of tradition which made it a bit easier for some to turn their minds toward the eternal, a sense of solemnity which helped some to turn their hearts toward God -- and if that loss can, even if only in part, be made good, if it can be remedied, by a motu proprio allowing the "old Mass" to be celebrated more widely, then it is a work of great import for the Pope to carry out.

If the "old Mass" is merely a "cultural" matter, the fad of a small elite, it will not flourish in any case, and the motu proprio will be a dead letter. But if it is a matter of renewing the Church, and if the dignity and holiness of the old rite strikes the faithful in such a way as to re-kindle in them a sense of that devotion which prepares them to encounter Christ, then allowing the old Mass to be celebrated more widely will be an act worth preparing for with much toil and care.
[Hat tip to S.F.]

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Birth control

"The most effective form of birth control known to man is a Bronx accent."

-- Lewis Grizzard (1946-1994)

[Hat tip to S.F.]

Gospel according to ELCA Lutheranism

"ELCA Council Assumes Responsibility to Address Racism, Sexism" (ELCA News Service, april 19, 2007):
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) assigned responsibility for its ongoing antiracism and antisexism education and training to its Board Development Committee. In November the council voted to begin planning "for its continuous education, reflection and training on the issue of sexism, just as the Church Council has committed itself to continuous education, reflection and training on the issue of racism."

. . . The council asked the Board Development Committee to coordinate planning for the council's retreat in July 2008 on the topic of "scandalous realities," which was a reference to a commitment related to the strategic directions of the ELCA churchwide organization: "confront the scandalous realities of racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, age, gender, familial, sexual, physical, personal and class barriers that often manifest themselves in exclusion, poverty, hunger and violence."

Monday, June 25, 2007

Blair and the Pope, again

Friday, June 22, 2007

Bruce's Philosopher Song, from Monty Python

[Advisory: Rated PG-13 for language. In some cases, lyrics carry British, not American, signification.]

Happy Weekend!


A reader also sent the link below to a live performance of the song at the Hollywood Bowl. I add the advisory: the performance has additional objectional language, though it will surely recall the salad days of summer in the 80s for many of you older geezers among us, like myself.

[Hat tip to S.F.]

Thursday, June 21, 2007

When money no longer talks

Vatican reverses annulment of Joseph Kennedy's first marriage years later" (, June 21, 1007):
BOSTON (AP) - The Vatican reversed the annulment of former representative Joseph Kennedy II's first marriage, a union that had lasted 12 years and produced two sons.

Sheila Rauch on Wednesday confirmed a report on Time magazine's website that her appeal of the annulment to Rome has succeeded. "I'm very grateful that the marriage was validated," she told The Associated Press.
Of related interest:[Photo credit: hat tip to David L. Alexander]

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Liturgical go-go dancing in Joliet diocese

Franciscan Jubilee features half-dressed gyrating women. See Matt C. Abbott's "Liturgical 'go-go' dancing?" (Renew America, June 19, 2007). Some idiot is thinking, "Now there's a surefire way to bolster lagging Mass attendance!" When will such idiots stop trying to lower the Church to compete with MTV banalities and consider restoring her to her lofty salvific mission of elevating people to holiness and truth? If they did that, the spiritually starved masses would return in droves.

How does the Pope negotiate the implementation of the MP?

David L. Alexander offers an interesting theory over at Man with Black Hat in a post entitled "Critical Mass: Imminent Developments" (June 15, 2007):
Vatican watchers have confided that this Pope is not known for his administrative prowess. He is a scholar by temperament and training, who would just as soon be back home in Regensberg writing and teaching, as opposed to overseeing the lethargic three-ring circus that is the Roman Curia. But unlike his predecessor, who was said to have the same limitations, this one knows it well enough to put people in key positions who are able to compensate. (Cardinal Bertone's recent appointment as Secretary of State is a case in point.) In addition, there has been a problem with the proper translation of Latin texts, which are the official versions of any decrees originating from the Holy See. Certain key phrases that have a certain forcefulness, are often diluted in translation. (An example is the post-synodal exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis, the English version of which has already been cited for a number of significant errors. That translation, and possibly others, is in the process of revision.) As a result -- not to mention some good old-fashioned Vatican intrigue and inter-departmental haggling -- the translation process may be taking longer than usual.

Now, there's one more thing...

A major bone of contention with the motu proprio, is the provision that a priest can use the classical missal without requiring the approval of the local bishop. This is not a problem for people who have deluded themselves into believing that parish priests are like cowboys who can ride into town and shoot 'em up any which way they want. Anyone who ever spent a day studying ecclesiology, if they're really honest with themselves, doesn't buy it. But how does a Pope allow for more generosity in worship, without defying the legitimate role of a bishop as chief liturgical officer of his diocese and successor to the apostles?

This brings me to my theory...

The Pope has been contacting bishops in various parts of the world, in an attempt to reason with them for the proper spirit of cooperation. At least that's what's reported. I think it's going more like this:

"Look, guys, we can this the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is that you facilitate the training of celebrating the Old Mass, for any priest under your obedience who desires it, and that you minimize any impediments to the regular and convenient celebration of the same. The hard way is that I release any priest of the Latin Rite throughout the world from any accountability to their bishops, as to which form of the Roman Missal they decide to use, publicly or privately. So, what's it gonna be, fellas?"

Now, that's my theory and I'm stickin' to it! It doesn't seem too far fetched either. As this is written, arrangements for a priest of the Fraternity of Saint Peter to come to the Arlington Diocese and conduct workshops for priests, are already being made by our bishop, who from what we know -- bless his heart -- was likely to have required some persuasion for this degree of solicitude.

In the event of this action's fulfillment, a Tip of the Black Hat is being reserved for him. Just in case.
[Hat tip to D.L.A.]

Pontifications on Renewing the "Renewed" Liturgy

See Fr. Al Kimel's post on "Renewing the 'renewed' liturgy" over at his new Pontifications site (June 9, 2007). After reviewing Fr Michael McGuckian's “The Eucharist in the West” (New Blackfriars [March 2007]) -- a fascinating reflection in itself -- he offers the following concrete proposals:
(1) Abandon the versus populum, immediately! Let priest and people face God together. The single most destructive feature of the “renewed liturgy” is its anthropocentric orientation. The people of God are sanctified by worshipping God, not by celebrating each other.

(2) Restore the chanted liturgy. Prayers are to be sung according to the ancient forms.

(3) Ban the musical compositions of Marty Haugen and David Haas and anything similar. Gregorian chant must be restored as the primary music of the Latin rite. Given the magnitude of the problem, it is probably best to simply ban all music composed after 1960. Perhaps one day the good music that has been composed during the past forty years can be retrieved, but that day is not now. Catholic priests and musicians today do not know what sacred music is.

(4) Restore the use of incense.

(5) Eradicate ritual informality.

(6) Drastically reduce electronic amplification.

(7) Encourage eucharistic adoration both within and outside the Mass. Let the people prostrate themselves before Christ Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. A bow of the head is not sufficient!

He then concludes:
After much thought, I have finally become persuaded that all Catholic priests should be authorized to celebrate the Tridentine Mass, despite the inevitable confusion this will create. While I personally believe that liturgy should be normatively celebrated in the language of the people, I also believe that the practical abolition of the Tridentine Mass was wrong and destructive. We must retrace our steps and attempt to undo the blunders of the post-Vatican II Church. In one way or another, we must forge new connections to the liturgical tradition and the Mass of St Pius V.

[Hat tip to Fr. Kimel]

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"10 Commandments" for good motorists

Vatican issues "10 Commandments" for good motorists (Reuters, June 19, 2007): Excerpts
Thou shall not drive under the influence of alcohol. Thou shall respect speed limits. Thou shall not consider a car an object of personal glorification or use it as a place of sin.
A 36-page document called "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road" contains 10 Commandments covering everything from road rage, respecting pedestrians, keeping a car in good shape and avoiding rude gestures while behind the wheel. The document's Fifth Commandment reads: "Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin."

Alright, all you Hummer drivers out there, mover over and let my Deux Cheveaux have a piece of the road.

Of related interest: "The new driving commandments" (Crowhill Weblog, June 25, 2007):
Part of me wants to say (as a friend did in email) “The Vatican can’t deal with the sex-abuse crisis, or rein in the weirdoes who mess with the liturgy, and this is how they spend their time?”

But the more sensible part of me realizes that just because they fail miserably at some things doens’t mean they can’t do anything else. Life must go on.

Another part of me wonders whether it’s good for the world to get driving advice from Italians, who (from all I hear — I’ve never been there myself) are pretty awful at it.

OTOH, maybe that’s why it became a priority at the Vatican.
[Hat tip to Greg Krehbiel]

Monday, June 18, 2007

Confirmation: Benedict has signed the Motu Proprio

"For the Record - Tornielli: 'Benedict XVI has signed...'" (Rorate Caeli, June 17, 2007):
Andrea Tornielli, one of the most respected religious journalists in Italy, confirms in this Sunday's edition of Il Giornale the reports of the past few days, adding some interesting new historical information.
See translations in English of excerpts from Andrea Tornielli's article, "Ratzinger's turning point on the liturgy - All clear for the Ancient Latin Mass" at Rorate Caeli link above. Once excerpt:
The decision of Benedict XVI is thus not a step back, but a stage of the liturgical reform willed by the Council and not yet fully accomplished.
The date of publication has yet to be announced, but appears imminent.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Outgoing seminary rector slams archdiocese

"Critic slams archdiocese land sale as betrayal: Ex-seminary head sees liberal threat" (The Boston Globe, June 13, 2007):
On his way out the door, the departing rector of St. John's Seminary sent a pair of blistering letters to church officials, alleging that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston is endangering the future training of priests by letting theological liberals move in next door.
The Jesuit-run Catholic institutions, Boston College and Weston Jesuit School of Theology, are apparently expected to move into buildings currently held by the seminary.

Motu proprio "signed and imminent"

Translated from the Italian website of Papal news Petrus: supposed excerpts of the actual Cover Letter to be sent to all bishops, details of the Press Conference which would host the public announcement of the document, as well as a clear declaration from an extremely credible source, Nicola Bux ("For the Record - URGENT - Italian Papal News website: Motu proprio "signed and imminent" - Quotes from the Accompanying Letter," Rorate Caeli, June 14, 2007).

Exclusive: "Motu Proprio" signed by the Pope, liberalization of Latin Mass imminent

by Bruno Volpe

The Papal "Motu Proprio" for the liberalization of the Latin Mass according to the Tridentine rite of Saint Pius V is ready, is about to be translated into several languages and will be published right before the departure of Benedict XVI for the summer vacation. [Rorate note: The Pope's early vacation this summer will be spent in a small villa owned by the Diocese of Treviso, in the tiny hamlet of Lorenzago di Cadore, Province of Belluno, in the Veneto region, in the July 9-27 period.]

The text has already been signed by the Pontiff, who has even written a long exaplanatory letter, of a theological character, "addressed to all the Bishops of the world", as it can be read in its introduction, "so that they may receive this document with serenity and patience".

The Pope thus asks the Bishops, the clergy, and the faithful for a serene mood in the acceptance of the "Motu Proprio", which will be presented in a Press Conference by Cardinals Francis Arinze, Dario Castrillon Hoyos, and Julian Herranz.
[Hat tip to Rorate Caeli and New Catholic's translation from the Italian, via M.F.]

The new slave laborers?

"Tell Burger King: 'Farmers Deserve Fair Wages'" (Sojourners, "Take Action").
Farm workers who pick tomatoes for Burger King's sandwiches earn 40 to 50 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has not risen significantly in nearly 30 years. Workers who toil from dawn to dusk must pick two tons of tomatoes to earn $50 in one day.

McDonald's and other fast-food chains have committed to guaranteeing improved wages and enforcing a code of conduct for conditions in the fields. But Burger King -- the second-largest hamburger chain in the world -- has so far refused to work with farm workers and heed the call of the faith community to improve wages and working conditions for those who pick their tomatoes.
Our friend Sean Fagan, on leave this summer from his seminary training in New York, has drafted an online letter to Burger King management, which you can edit or sign as is and send along to make your opinion (hopefully) heard. (Click on the link above and scroll down.)

Town council: $500 fine for saggy pants

"Cajun Town Bans Saggy Pants" (Breitbart.Com, June 13, 2007):
Delcambre, LA. (AP) - Sag your britches somewhere else, this Cajun-country town has decided.

Mayor Carol Broussard said he would sign an ordinance the town council approved this week setting penalties of up to six months in jail and a $500 fine for being caught in pants that show undergarments or certain parts of the body.

Broussard said he has nothing against saggy pants but thinks people who wear them should use discretion. "It's gotten way out of hand out here," he said.
Broussard's advice for folks who like to wear their pants low? "They're better off taking the pants off and just wearing a dress." Wonder: was that gender specific?

Of related interest
"The narcissist generation" (Musings, May 25, 2007)

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Here's something I received from a reader -- a question about tithing. Like many of these sorts of topics, there's an official answer readily available, but I think it more helpful to put the question out there for the comments that many of you may have to offer. An important dimension in answering this sort of question, it seems to me, is what people's experience has been, what Catholic custom has been, and I don't mean merely the custom of people nowadays. From what I hear from priests these days, a meager fraction of any given parish's membership carries the financial burden of supporting the work of the Church. I know Catholics who do tithe. But it's evident that many do not give a dime to the work of their parish churches.

Our reader's query runs as follows:
Have a question for you and wondered how you have approached the topic. Feel free to post if you want. Know you are in need of a fresh topic since Hahn/Vree exchange has reached over 250 postings.

I have a question regarding tithing or "giving to the material needs of the church." My basic question deals with how much of my tithe "should" go to the church vs. charitable giving. Say I decided to give x amount of dollars of my monthly income to the Lord's work. I know that a particular Catholic charity utilizes 96% of my donation for direct food for the poor. I do not know what percentage of my donation to local Catholic Church goes towards administration, etc. Additionally, the local church may be somewhat lackadaisical in correcting liturgical abuse. Should I feel guilty for only wanting to give minimally to the local church, while giving generously to Catholic charity? Does the 6th precept dictate that "the Church" be the local church?
Let's hear what you think.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Unfortunate Internet addresses

Advisory: do not read the following of post if humor with sexual innuendo offends you. To the pure in heart, all things are pure. To the prude at heart, all things are excessively solemn. To me, these links are simply funny. If that tells you that I am in need your prayers, your intercessions are kindly solicited. Or if you just want to buy me a Guinness so that I can drink one to your honor with a good word to Hilaire Belloc for that world where "the Catholic sun doth shine," just click on the link in the sidebar to the left and donate a few bucks.

All links appear to work except for #5, which is under construction:
  1. Who Represents is where you can find the name of the agent that represents any celebrity. Their Web site is

  2. Experts Exchange is a knowledge base where programmers can exchange advice and views at

  3. Looking for a pen? Look no further than Pen Island at

  4. Neet a therapist? Try Therapist Finder at

  5. Then there's the Italian Power Generator company at

  6. And don't forget the Mole Station Native Nursery in New South Wales,

  7. If you're looking for IP Computer Software, there's always

  8. And the designers at Speed of Art await you at their wacky Web site,

From Protestantism to Catholicism, From the Novus Ordo Mass to the Tridentine Latin Mass

By Michael Larson

A conversion story, like any story, is something of a reconstruction, limited by the clues available to one presently and by the gulf of time. Just as one cannot step into the same river twice, neither can one see with the same eyes one had at some previous point in life. What follows then is my reconstruction of the path by which I have become a traditional Roman Catholic. When I look back now, even with the illumination of hindsight, I cannot apprehend in one glance -- or even in many glances -- the whole of it. I see in the distance where the trail begins and bits of sunlit footpath between here and there, but much of it remains in obscurity. These are the limitations of human memory and understanding. Nevertheless, I find myself here now -- and for poignant reasons, which I will try to explain.

Leaving Protestantism

It seems logical that any convert might have two internal forces at work: the movement away from one thing and the movement toward something else. This was certainly the case for me in 1989 when I converted to the Catholic Church. For two years prior I had been moving toward Catholicism, and for several years before that I had been moving away from Protestantism. To understand more precisely the nature of this movement away, I must make clear what it was not: It was not a movement away from belief.

I was born into a Lutheran home and baptized as an infant. My parents taught me at a very young age to believe in the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. My parents also made clear to me that Christ died for my sins and that if I would accept Him as my Lord and Savior, He would live in my heart in this life and take me to Heaven in the next. I have never stopped believing any of these things. Then again, these things cannot rightly be attributed to Protestantism, at least not in their ultimate origin. These beliefs, understood generally, are truths the Protestant Reformers took with them when they broke away from the Church and started their own versions of Christianity.

Even today, most serious Catholics and Protestants would agree on these basic tenets of the faith. The disagreement would come in defining what is meant by accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, and what is involved in such a proposition. What is involved for the Protestant is primarily the maintenance of belief, the perpetual mental acknowledgment, so to speak, of Christ's mastery over us and His saving love for us. In its most extreme form, this emphasis among Protestants on mental assent is essentially the principle of sola fide (i.e., by faith alone we are saved). Here the Protestant uses the term "faith," not as the Catholic uses it to refer to all the Articles of Faith held inviolable by the Church and to which all Catholics by definition must assent, but rather as the singular belief in Christ as Lord. The natural consequence of sola fide is the invisible church. To most, if not all, of the Protestants I have known, the denominations of Christianity (of which they perceive Catholicism to be merely one of many) are each a construct of man. The thinking goes like this: God alone knows which individuals from among all the denominations have belief in Jesus, the Christ. It is this group of individuals who make up the invisible church -- invisible in the sense that it does not conform to any particular set of human-defined doctrines and obligations but is rather a society of like-minded believers who cross sectarian lines.

In short, these believers are one in their acceptance of Christ as Lord; the denominational disagreements about other areas of doctrine and spiritual life are considered peripheral: after all, no one denomination has all the correct answers, so one must choose a church based on one's personal preferences regarding a particular style of worship or a particular doctrinal emphasis. Many of the Protestants I know will readily acknowledge that their version of Christianity may in fact have some errors, yet they feel that there is no way to know for certain what those errors are. They reference St. Paul and say that in this life, we are left to see through the glass darkly; in the next life, God will show us where we were wrong, and only then will we all see the truths of Heaven. The implication, of course, in this kind of thinking is that the Kingdom of Heaven has not yet been revealed. Yes, we know that Christ is Lord, but universal revelation, in effect, ends there. All the rest -- all other matters of doctrine, worship, and spiritual life -- are up for grabs, and people, being as they are, will find endlessly different ways to adapt their religion to themselves.

In this invisible church, one's spiritual journey is, almost by necessity, a private and individualistic affair. There are many thousands of Protestant denominations, no two of them holding all matters of doctrine and religious practice in common. An individual might not even agree with certain of the doctrinal teachings or the moral obligations within his own denomination, let alone with those of another denomination. One's spiritual life, then, is one's own. Transformation, or sanctification, occurs largely in isolation. And the specific nature of what must be accomplished in this journey is rarely, if ever, articulated among Protestant thinkers. (Luther even denies the notion entirely. For him, there is no journey, no transformation. As he once put it, one remains a "dung heap" underneath, clothed with the snow-white mantle of Christ.)

This is in sharp contrast to the Catholic act of accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, which, in addition to the maintenance of one's belief, involves a public submission to the very concrete teachings and precepts of the Church, an ancient and visible society. Transformation of the individual Catholic -- an absolute necessity for salvation -- is the normal work of the Church, through the graces received in the seven Sacraments (especially the Eucharist), through conformance to the teachings (both doctrinal and moral) of the Magisterium, through prayer (especially the Mass), and through penance. To be saved, the Catholic must, in the words of our Lord, "become perfect even as your father in Heaven is perfect" (Mt. 5:48). If transformation for one in a state of grace is not complete in this life, then Purgatory -- a final purifying fire -- follows until that soul is truly ready for Heaven. But I get ahead of myself. I mention these Catholic characteristics here only in an effort to more vividly render -- by way of contrast -- my understanding of the Protestantism with which I grew up.

My movement away, then, from my Protestant upbringing was not exactly a rejection of belief, at least not at the most elemental level. Rather, I was rejecting what I had come to see as a kind of impotency, an apparent powerlessness within the churches I attended, to transform practitioners -- that and a general ambiguity about what such transformation might involve, how it might be accomplished. Certainly I was powerless to change myself -- this was all too clear -- but even more alarming was the inability of the local church to help. In other words, I had come to perceive church-going as an exercise in futility: We, most of us, agreed that we needed Christ to save us, but all we could find at church was one another -- men and women and children doing their best, many of them kind and helpful, who say wise and sometimes meaningful things, who try together to figure out what this or that passage of Scripture might mean, to remind one another of our need for Christ, etc. And that was it. We shared belief (at least one main one), and we offered one another ourselves (to a limited degree), because that is all we had to offer.

Some might ask, "Well, what more do you want?" And indeed, in the realm of natural goodness, such an image of human fellowship does in fact seem touching, almost even as if it should be enough. But it is not enough. And by the age of 20, I had figured this out: In the best of Protestant churches, there is natural goodness -- sincere, well-meaning, supportive communities of those who share a belief in the need for Christ -- and in the worst of them, there is chaos. But in none of them could I see a supernatural reason to go to church on Sunday morning. And my exposure to various denominations had not exactly been narrow: Lutheran, as I have mentioned, but also Evangelical Free, Evangelical Covenant, Presbyterian, Baptist, Church of Christ, some independent Bible-based fundamentalist churches, and a couple varieties of Pentecostalism.

Often there were pastors with charismatic personalities or good public speaking skills; sometimes there were exceptionally nice families or a good youth group; occasionally there was what people perceived to be good biblical teaching; and in the Pentecostal churches there were signs and wonders, people speaking in tongues, people making prophecies, and people seeking (and sometimes claiming) physical healing. What I could not find in any of these churches was anything other than a lateral orientation. By that I mean a human orientation, a method of choosing and attending a church based on human issues. If the pastor was charismatic or a good speaker, we were charmed -- by him! If there were nice families, we were charmed -- by them. If there was a good youth group, we kids were excited by the prospect of new friends. If there was what we believed to be good biblical teaching, then we were ultimately pleased with ourselves, for who else but we could determine what was good and what was errant? And if there were signs and wonders, we were either skeptical of or impressed by those claiming the sign or the wonder, and never to my recollection did such charged displays ever turn our orientation vertical. There was always too much of the individual and not enough of the individual's Maker.

During and after college (an evangelical school), I continued to attend various churches occasionally but always with dismay. Although I could not have articulated it then, I was quite weary. The Protestant churches I attended knew only how to serve me up something (or someone) slightly better or worse than myself. It became grimly clear to me that I could do just as well on my own. What need had I, a blind man, to be led around by those with a similar visual impairment?

So I moved away. By which I mean that I went to church less and less. I never stopped believing in those basic tenets I had learned early in life, but I had come to realize that those tenets and church attendance (at least the churches with which I was familiar) had almost nothing in common. The tenets -- Trinity, Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Salvation, Heaven -- all of them had to do with things beyond the human domain. It was the upward sweep of those realities, the vertical orientation they invited, that caused me to reject the notion of Protestant church-going long before I ever seriously considered the claims of the Catholic Church. In short, I wandered away from a lateral religion -- from such inordinate preoccupation with ourselves -- and into what is infinitely higher and grander than even the very best of what we have to offer one another.

Trying to Find Catholicism

It is beauty that lured me at last into the Catholic Church. I am artistic by nature (poet, writer, musician), so I am particularly susceptible to beauty. Often this has been to my detriment. I have sought beauty in many of its natural forms -- in the drama and variety of earthen landscapes, in art and architecture, in music, in the bond of friendship, in the love of a woman and the loveliness of her form, even (I am amused to say) in some brilliant corner of myself. In myself I could not find it; in romantic love, it is pressed; in friendship, it is by necessity limited and often ends up fading; in music, at least in popular music, it disorients; in art, it is a rabbit hole; in landscapes, it is tantalizingly inaccessible. In Catholicism, too, I would see beauty. And this was cause for both enchantment and anxiety. Would I find behind her doors the answer to all my longings, or would the Church end up merely another of beauty's tricks?

In 1987, when I was in graduate school at St. Cloud State University, I made two friends who had been raised Protestant but who were in the process of becoming Catholic. I had never heard of such a thing; my parents were not what I would call anti-Catholic, but neither was it something to take seriously in our household. My converting friends and I talked long into many nights. We argued some, but not much. My wife and I read books such as Evangelical Is Not Enough, by Thomas Howard; Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail by Robert Webber; The New Catholics edited by Dan O'Neill, a collection of modern conversion stories; and two books by G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. I took interest also in the fact that some of my favorite novelists were Catholic: Walker Percy, Graham Greene, and Flannery O'Connor. I would like to say that my conversion was intellectual, that pure unadulterated reason led me to the Catholic Church. It was not. If I were to convert now, I venture to think that it would be for reasons of reason. But at that time, as a young man, I was almost entirely intuitive.

What my intuition told me in those days, even before I had attended a single Mass, was that the Church is "lovely, dark, and deep." Frost applied these words to a patch of woods, but there was something about Catholicism also that promised of regions hitherto unknown. It was the "further up and further in" described by C.S. Lewis, ironically a Protestant, in The Chronicles of Narnia. It was the mythopoeic rendering of Purgatory, namelessly portrayed by George MacDonald, another Protestant, in a book called Lilith, which had affected me deeply. It was the real-world equivalent of the Middle Earth of J.R.R. Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings, a friend of Lewis's and the lone Catholic among my favorite fantasy authors.

From all that I had read, discussed, and intuited about Catholicism, I perceived something truly beautiful, something far beyond myself, some deep, majestic, elevated realm. There are actually many elements of the Church that fulfill these descriptors, but perhaps the easiest for new Catholics to grasp, and certainly the most important, is the Eucharist. If we are to be made perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect, we must be visited regularly by His Son, who is of the same essence. This happens in the Catholic Mass. The priest, standing in the stead of Christ, offers to the Father the perfect sacrifice of the Son, whereby at the Consecration, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of our Lord, who -- just as He did through the Incarnation -- enters our world, our very bodies, and sustains us with His supernatural life. To my knowledge, not a single Protestant church has ever made such a claim. Instead, they speak of such abstractions as commemoration (popular in the free churches) or consubstantiation (the Lutheran term), whereby Christ is described as vaguely present "in and around" the bread and wine (or grape juice). I suspect these Protestant ceremonies do have value, at least for those who care to concentrate, but only in the natural realm. And they are not Sacraments. They are not administered by a priest with apostolic lineage. They are not to be equated with the literal descent of Christ, who feeds His sheep with a supernatural food. Indeed, the Protestant mind is scandalized by such a notion, as were the Jews, as were His own disciples until much later, after the Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Ghost.

My apprehension of the shocking claim of the Catholic Sacrament of Holy Communion was a clear and tangible pull. Again, I could not have articulated it at the time, but in this Sacrament was the antithesis of all that had made me weary in the Protestant churches. Instead of a Protestant minister's private interpretation of Scripture, however astute, I was to receive Christ Himself. Instead of the well-meaning well-wishes of my fellow man, I was to receive Christ. Instead of a fine soloist, instead of the entertaining psychobabble of a good midweek speaker, instead of a sincere Bible study, instead of a friendly potluck dinner, I was to receive Christ. "Apart from Me, you can do nothing" (Jn. 15:5). He truly meant these words. We are spirit and matter. In the Eucharist, we receive spiritual food but in a material form. In the Mass, in every Mass, and especially in the Eucharist, the central tenets of the Faith are elevated once again for the faithful to see: the Second Person of the Trinity, in His great love for the Father, is offered as a sacrifice, through which the faithful are then fed and spiritual life is perpetually resurrected. Apart from Me, you can do nothing. The Church, if she is of supernatural origin, must be founded entirely, without any deviance, on these words of our Lord. I began to believe that I had found such a Church.

Of course, there were other attractions: Mary and the saints, those of my species, those who had passed through the same frailties into perfection and holiness, and were consequently far above me yet accessible through prayer; the nine choirs of Angels, those of a different species, again far above me yet again accessible through prayer; the religious -- priests and bishops, monks and nuns -- those in this life who give up everything for the sake of Christ; the magnificent depository of faith, the writings of the Fathers, the Popes, the Councils, etc. Basically, I found in Catholicism a whole hierarchical universe, most of which was well above me, and I was only too happy to take my modest place in such a grand reality. There was a kind of lifting of the Protestant ceiling, and what I beheld above me was nothing but Beauty, stretching away into eternity.

Beauty's Trick

What I have described about Catholicism is true. Every bit of it truly exists. But it is a trick of beauty to be elusive, and when I actually came to embrace the Bride of Christ, I had trouble finding her. The Church I had read about, thought about, talked about, dreamed about for two years was not the one I found when I entered the doors. Imagine my surprise. I knew, for instance, the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist -- it had played a big part in my conversion -- but the liturgy I encountered seemed to downplay its significance. The priest, facing the people and speaking in the vernacular, often seemed compelled to impart his particular personality on the event -- nothing blatant usually, just the nuance of facial expressions, cadence, vocal inflection, gestures. I found myself naturally focusing on the individuality of that person, the priest, rather than on Christ, who was in reality the Victim being offered to His Father. Furthermore, there was a strong feeling of informality about what was going on, perhaps best encapsulated by the inevitable trooping up of laity, often strangely dressed, to help the priest distribute the Sacrament. This misery was topped off by the faithful, myself included, receiving our Lord in the palms of our hands, then popping Him into our mouths like a snack cracker.

I did not know, at the time, what this incomprehensible moment ought to look like, but I did know that the casual air with which we all received the Body of Christ was something of a disappointment. It took me right out of the hierarchical realm of majesty that I had long anticipated and left me once again focusing on my fellow man. Although I had become a Catholic, I found myself suffering a mysterious and demoralizing hangover from Protestant days: Yes, the Catholic Church taught that the Host was truly the Body and Blood of our Lord, but even to my freshly converted eyes, nothing about the way the Sacrament was handled seemed to align with that teaching.

The problem with such liturgical and rubrical informality is that doctrine is inevitably compromised as well. For priest and laity alike, the week-after-week (or day-after-day in the case of the priest) effect is to lose faith in what is actually happening. And to lose faith in the Transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord is to lose the entirety of the Catholic Faith. This is not an overstatement. Without a true, deep, reverent understanding of Christ's material presence in and among us, sustaining us, transforming us -- without that, we as Catholics have no faith. Christ said as much:
Amen, amen, I say to you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh, is meat indeed: and my blood, is drink indeed: He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and died. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever. (Jn. 6:54-59, Douay-Rheims)
Once this central truth is compromised in the Catholic mind, then every other Article of Faith is likewise undermined, because everything, every single thing that Catholics believe is predicated on the centrality of Christ in our midst. Take that away, and all we have left is a smorgasbord of beliefs, mere mental constructs sustained by our own human powers of concentration. This is no different from what Protestants have. Without the absolute, literal centrality of Christ, the Church is neither One nor Holy nor Catholic nor even Apostolic, for it was He, Christ, who instructed the first Apostles initially and then sent to them the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost, who would guide them in the way of all truth.

Although it was disheartening to behold, I had to admit that the modern Catholic Church has produced practitioners who closely resemble their Protestant counterparts. Kenneth Jones's book, Index of Leading Catholic Indicators, tells a dismal story of the Church since Vatican II: most modern Catholics, for instance, no longer believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Most do not understand the Mass as a sacrifice, but rather as a shared and symbolic meal; is it any wonder, then, that most no longer understand the voluntary missing of Mass to be a mortal sin? Indeed, most seem to have lost a sensitivity to sin in general, let alone to the distinction between mortal and venial sin; as a consequence, they have little use for the Sacrament of Confession. Many also seem to have forgotten Mary, the Mother of our Lord. Few pray to the saints and angels. And most simply do not bother to follow difficult Catholic teachings about such things as contraception. In short, many of the Catholic laity have become moral and theological relativists, adapting the Faith of the Ages to themselves, to what works for them in their own modern conception of reality, rather than conforming themselves to the reality of Heaven.

This is the Church I found when I converted. This is the Novus Ordo (the new order) springing forth from post-conciliar Catholicism. For 14 years I simply accepted the fact with a shrug. A disappointment? Certainly. But where else was I to go? In practice, I was no different from many of my fellow parishioners, and much worse than some heroic others: I fulfilled my weekly Mass obligation, often leaving early, as soon as I had received the Sacrament; I went only rarely to Confession; I never sought the aid of saints or angels; I never prayed the Rosary; I moseyed about mostly unaware that I had chosen the vocational state of marriage years ago and therefore without any conscious acceptance of my duties or of the sacrifices associated with such a state. Instead, I pursued my own artistic ends somewhat aimlessly and always with a certain sadness.

But I never thought about leaving the Church. I held on to the idea that, despite the malaise of her members (and, I fear, many clerics and religious), the Church still contained the truth, still offered us the Sacraments, the saints, the depository of faith, all the things I had pondered before converting. In my efforts to make sense of it all, I held these things -- these very Catholic things -- apart in my mind and resigned myself to the notion that they existed separately from actual human experience, something like Platonic ideals. Then in 2003 I attended for the first time the Tridentine Latin Mass, the Mass of Pope St. Pius V, the Mass of the Ages, virtually unchanged for nearly half a millennium.

Waking Up

I will forever be grateful to the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem, a Latin Mass order who were granted the indult by then-Bishop Raymond Burke of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisc. I had just moved my family to nearby Winona, Minn., accepting a teaching post there. With me, to my first traditional Mass, I took my 11-year-old daughter, Kate. We awoke together as if from a dream. There, before our eyes, in the movements and postures of the priest and his assistants, in the ancient sounds of the Latin words and in the appeal of that one voice, a single ecclesiastical tongue, in the meaning of those prayers, the extensive adoration of the three Persons of the Trinity, in the summoning of many saints and martyrs by name, in the hailing of our Lady, in the deeply reverent Consecration, the priest with his back to us, his head lifted to the crucifix in front of him, the breaking of our Lord in the perfect sacrifice He offers in love to the Father, in virtually every nuance of this Mass was the Church I had gone looking for so many years ago. At last there was alignment: between the idea of Catholicism and its practice, between the Church I thought I was converting to and the one that now stood before me, between the virtues of hope and faith. The long haze of disillusionment cleared, and I knew for certain that the Church had indeed survived, a tough but delicate lily pushing her way impossibly through this present layer of ice and snow.

If all traditional Catholicism had to offer was the Tridentine Mass, it would be enough, because the Mass, by its very nature, is catechetical. The liturgy teaches even as it orients; the emphasis is always vertical; the treasures of the Church are constantly reiterated in plain view of the faithful. The Mass, as the grounding point of contact among the members of the Church, contains all the marks of that Church: it is catholic in the sense that it is universal (the same everywhere, made even more so by the exclusive use of Latin); it is holy in the sense that it directs our attention perpetually to all that is above us in the heavenly hierarchy; it is apostolic in the way that it came into being, beginning with the canon -- the core words instituted by our Lord -- and developing within the apostolic tradition; and it makes us one in Holy Communion, which is, of course, the only way possible for true unity to occur. Any other claim to unity among Christians resides in the natural realm, is a group of humans holding beliefs more or less loosely in common as they would in a political party or an enthusiast's club. But the unity of Christ's Church is more akin to the blood that binds an extended human family. God gives of His incarnated Self to us, and by way of His Blood, which we take into our own bodies, we are quite literally of one family. In fact, because it is Christ and no other who unites us both materially and spiritually, we become more deeply bonded in this heavenly family than we could ever be in our earthly families, which are but an intimation of the other.

I digress with this consideration of unity because it gets at the heart of the difference between the Novus Ordo Masses I attended for 14 years and the Tridentine Latin Masses I have attended since. With the Novus Ordo Mass, the Church, like the Protestant churches, has attempted to build unity with human hands by trying to make the Mass more appealing, more "relevant" to modern man. The damage is done deftly by a few sleights of hand: change the language to the vernacular despite the inherent risk of disunity by way of inevitable translation discrepancies; reduce the number and elegant formality of prayers; reduce references to the saints and to Mary (almost as if these ancient lights are a kind of superstitious embarrassment to the "modern" Catholic mind); involve laity in the liturgy; involve laity in the distribution of the Sacrament; de-emphasize the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist by putting the priest on the other side of the altar and inviting the image of his presiding at the family table; de-emphasize the material presence of Christ in the Host by encouraging (and sometimes forcing) the faithful to receive Him in a standing position and in the palms of their hands; encourage popular, culturally relevant music that operates almost exclusively on a simplistic and emotional level; preach sermons that are invariably bland so as not to run the risk of offending anyone; stop speaking of the need for increased prayer and voluntary penance, of the need for frequent Confession, of the need to utterly amend one's life. Virtually every distinguishing characteristic of the Novus Ordo Mass is one of accommodation to the Spirit of the Age. Yes, Christ is still present in the Eucharist, but when every aspect of Catholic life and liturgy has been revised to emphasize and accommodate the whims of culture, then individual Catholic souls are at great risk. Through the fog of themselves and their fellow parishioners, the view of Christ is obscured. Our will, damaged already by the Fall, is further weakened and requires heroic exertion for priest and faithful alike to co-operate with the grace that is offered. And although there are notable exceptions, most are not heroic. Most are confused and floundering, lost sheep, united more to one another than to their Shepherd.

By contrast, the Tridentine Latin Mass seeks not to make the faithful more comfortable nor to involve them more in a false sense of spiritual egalitarianism. Rather, the traditional Mass, by its every word and rubric, strives to reveal and exalt the only possible means of true Christian unity: Christ Himself. This oneness is timeless, not in the least subject to the errors of Modernity -- basically, the elevation of the individuality of self -- or any other heresy for that matter. It is the visible manifestation of what Christ intimated when He said to Peter, "Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it" (Mt. 16:18).

This solidity in the traditional Mass seems to carry over to its priests as well. In the four years since my family and I started attending, we have received more consistent and unequivocal Catholic instruction, grounded deeply in the depository of faith, than in all our previous Catholic years combined. I have now a clearer understanding of the last 500 years of ideas and how they have affected both the Church and modern man. In the depths of traditional Catholic faith, I am finding an articulation not just for what I have experienced in modern Christianity over the years, but also for the whole of my life. I perceive the context for my most important choices along the way, the errors in some of my most cherished philosophies, the tepidity in my religious life, the aimlessness of my artistic life. We cannot see how we are infused with the spirit of the world until we step outside the world we are in. We step outside the world we are in by way of something that stands apart from such a world. The Church, instituted by Christ and guided by the Holy Ghost for nearly 2,000 years, ought to be that timeless and lucid entity by which we can see. For me, it finally is.

For as long as I can remember, a part of me has been trying to wake up from the dream of myself and shake my head in the clear brisk air of the real world. Although I have slept late and my eyes are still adjusting to the light, I know now who it was that woke me up. At the moment of Consecration during every Mass, when the priest is holding up the Body of our dear Lord about to be broken, the sanctus bells ring out across the beautiful bluffs that rise above the Mississippi River. That they should sound at such a moment is an anomaly in the modern age. With clarity of tone and timeless beckoning, they send an urgent message into the sleeping valley of the world: Something is happening here, something of indescribable importance. It is an ancient melody that most of us have all but forgotten. These bells are full of yearning. They sing the most poignant song that has ever been sung.

[Michael Larson teaches English at Minnesota State College -- Southeast Technical. He received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1995 and has recently published a book of poems, What We Wish We Knew (Ex Machina Press, 2005). The present article, "From Protestantism to Catholicism, From the Novus Ordo Mass to the Tridentine Latin Mass," was originally published in the New Oxford Review (May 2007), pp. 18-26, and is reproduced her by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.]

The Rabbi vs. the Pope

"A Rabbi Debates with the Pope. And What Divides Them Is Still Jesus" (www.chiesa, June 12, 2007).
The rabbi is Jacob Neusner, to whom Benedict XVI dedicates many pages of his latest book. In the judgment of both, the disputes between Judaism and Christianity should not conceal, but rather bring to light their respective claims to truth.

Blair 'may become a Catholic deacon'

More on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's possible (let's-pray-there's-more-than-meets-the-eye) conversion:
Tony Blair has discussed becoming a Roman Catholic deacon when he quits office.

The revelation comes as he prepares to meet the Pope amid speculation that he will use the audience in the Vatican to announce his conversion.

In his last foreign engagement, just days before he leaves Downing Street for the final time, the Prime Minister will visit Pope Benedict XVI in what officials say will be a "highly significant" personal mission.
Read more in "Blair 'may become a Catholic deacon'" (Daily Mail, June 9, 2007).

Friday, June 08, 2007

For the record: an exchange between Scott Hahn & Dale Vree

Scott Hahn recently responded in a letter to the editor of the New Oxford Review to criticisms of his views of the Holy Spirit as follows:
In response to your New Oxford Note "A Little Bit of Gnosticism" (Feb.) about me, I have to wonder whether you read what I wrote about the Holy Spirit.

First, I expressly deny that the Holy Spirit is feminine, in both the hardcover and paperback editions of my book First Comes Love. In this connection, I cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and its teaching about God: "He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective 'perfections' of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband" (#370).

Second, I always refer to the Holy Spirit as "He" -- never "She" -- in all my writings and teachings.

Third, it is absurd to say that modern defenders of Gnosticism (such as Elaine Pagels) derive any support whatsoever from exploratory study of maternal aspects of God and the Holy Spirit, whether by me or the orthodox Catholics I cite (e.g., St. Ephrem, St. Methodius, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Edith Stein, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Louis Bouyer, Matthias Scheeben).

Fourth, what you imply about me supporting lesbian marriage is unspeakably vile and slanderous. And on what basis do you argue: That if the Spirit has a maternal function, then Jesus had two mommies? The same twisted and perverse logic could be turned right around to show that Dale Vree, the Editor of the NOR, must support gay marriage between men: "If the Spirit's role is really paternal, then Jesus had two daddies -- at least (the first and third Persons of the Trinity), not to mention St. Joseph." As I said, this is twisted and perverse.

Your readers deserve better. Indeed, I invite them to read my chapter and judge for themselves, which they can now find online (courtesy of Doubleday).
NOR Editor, Dale Vree, replied as follows:
Yes, we read what you say about the Holy Spirit carefully, twice and sometimes thrice.

(1) Just to cite your paperback version. You do say the Holy Spirit is feminine. You say: "In Syriac as in Hebrew, the word for Spirit, ruah, is feminine, and so it ordinarily called for a feminine pronoun" (p. 160). You say: "Christians often interpreted the Bible's wisdom passages as referring to the Holy Spirit.... In the Book of Wisdom, chapters 7-9, God's Wisdom is referred to as 'holy spirit'.... The Hebrew word for Wisdom, hokmak, is also feminine..." (p. 161). You say: "Dominican theologian Father Benedict Ashley.... concludes 'it is to the Third Person of the Trinity...that the Old Testament descriptions of the feminine Wisdom are applied.' And his conclusion seems very reasonable" (p. 162). You say: "Etymology doesn't usually make for good biblical theology; but these cases might be an exception. The great Dominican Thomist Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange said: 'Since "Spirit" -- in Hebrew, Ruah -- is of the feminine gender...'" (p. 163). You say: "St. Edith Stein [said]...'Such love is properly the attribute of the Holy Spirit. Thus we can see the prototype of the feminine being in the Spirit of God...'" (p. 165). You wrote it. How can you deny it?

As for your quote from the Catechism (#370), the Catechism preponderantly says that God is our Father (#233, 238-40, 268-70, 272-74, 278, 2779-85, 2794-2802). As you say in a subtext, God is "Still Our Father" (pp. 166-67).

(2) As we said in our New Oxford Note (Feb.), Hahn says: "We know Who the Spirit is by what He does, and what the Spirit does is bridal and maternal..." (italics added). No "He" (the Holy Spirit) can be bridal or maternal. You might just as well have said the Holy Spirit is a "She."

(3) It is not just the modern defenders of gnosticism who say the Holy Spirit is maternal or motherly, it was also the bogus gnostic gospels. In the authentic Gospel of John, Jesus repeatedly calls the Holy Spirit "He" and "Him." And in the Catechism, the Holy Spirit is repeatedly called "he" and "him" (e.g., #683, 687, 1092, 1107, 1129, 2652).

(4) We would be startled if you would support lesbian "marriage," but that's where your argument leads. If Mary was female or maternal, and if the Holy Spirit is female or feminine and maternal, then Jesus had two mommies, which validates lesbian "marriage." No, Dale Vree does not support "gay marriage" between men: The Holy Spirit is paternal and Mary is maternal. That's the proper order.

We said in our New Oxford Note (Feb.) that "Hahn brings in Pope Benedict XVI to support his views.... [But] Hahn completely misreads it [Benedict's June 8, 2005, General Audience]." We noticed that you do not defend that argument -- and you can't.

Yes, we encourage our readers to judge for themselves at your website.
I would urge my readers not to jump to hasty conclusions, but to read and consider both letters with care and sensitivity for the details and nuances of truth, and, in commenting, to do so with considered charity.

[Scott Hahn is Professor of Theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, a popular Catholic speaker, and author of many books, including First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity (Image, Reprint ed., 2006). Dale Vree is founder and editor of the New Oxford Review. The two articles above were originally published under the titles of "Scott Hahn Defends Himself" and "The Editor Replies" in New Oxford Review (May 2007), pp. 10-11, and are reprinted here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706, U.S.A.]

Thursday, June 07, 2007

From The Onion: a new Reformation

"Modern-Day Martin Luther Nails 95 Comment Cards To IHOP Door" (The Onion, May 21, 2007).

Contents of the Motu Proprio

Brian Mershon offers an interesting article, "Is the Motu Proprio Still Imminent? Three Cardinals and an Archbishop Give Clues to its Contents" (The Remnant, June 7, 2007) Among other things, Mershon relates that the Traditional Latin Mass will likely be classed as an "extraordinary form of the one Roman rite," that the Motu Proprio will be understood by the Holy Father as part of his desired liturgical renewal, and that it will be the first of several necessary steps needed for further canonical regularization of the SSPX. Some of the noted clues to the contents of the Motu Proprio include the following:
  • The legitimate and fruitful celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass requires full ecclesial communion, of which the Supreme Pontiff is the guarantor.
  • The easing of the restrictions of the Traditional Roman rite cannot be equated in any manner with rejecting the Second Vatican Council as a legitimate council, nor the teaching and teaching authority of Popes John XXIII and/or Paul VI.
  • The Council of Trent, and following, Quo Primum, issued by Pope St. Pius V, did not will to unify all the existing rites of the Church. In fact, all rites for churches and religious orders that were at least 200 years old were allowed to continue in their own rite.
  • The missals of Pope St. Pius V and of Paul VI should not, and cannot be presented as “expressing opposite (or conflicting) views,” nor as mutually irreconcilable.
  • The liturgical decisions of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI should not be viewed in an opposed manner, but instead, with a hermeneutic of continuity.
Mershon's article is well worth reading in full for its thorough summary of the latest statements by Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos (President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei), Cardinal Walter Kasper (President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity), Cardinal Bertone (Vatican Secretary of State), and Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith (Secretary to the Office of Divine Worship and the Sacraments).

Note also these words by Vatican Secretary of State, Bertone ("Urgent news: Bertone confirms Motu proprio [yet again, and shortly]", Rorate Caeli, June 3, 2007):
I believe one will not wait long to see it published. The Pope is personally interested that this should take place. He will explain it in his accompanying letter, expecting a serene reception.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Amidst the dust of death in Iraq, a few bright flowers

A young Chaldean priest knowingly and willingly chose to remain with his parishioners in the Church of the Holy Spirit parish in Mosul, judged to be the most dangerous city after Baghdad in Iraq. His reasoning was simple: without him, without as its pastor, his flock would be scattered. In the barbarity of suicide attacks and bombings, one thing at least was clear -- one thing that gave him the strength to resist and persevere: "Christ”, Ragheed would say, “challenges evil with his infinite love, he keeps us united and through the Eucharist he gifts us life, which the terrorists are trying to take away." They killed him on the Sunday after Pentecost after he had celebrated Mass in Mosul, together with three of his subdeacons. See Sandro Magister, "The Last Mass of Father Ragheed, a Martyr of the Chaldean Church." (www.chiesa, June 5, 2007).

Monday, June 04, 2007

Carrie Tomko's test of faith

A reader writes to share the following:
Carrie Tomko is a middle-aged lady of great faith who runs a blog entitled "Still Running Off at the Keyboard." It is not a tremendously popular blog, ... but it has been for me a consistently interesting one, though I comment sparingly. Carrie is, like myself, an eternal neophyte, who explores a variety of topics, especially those relating to modernism and the new ecumenism, fearlessly. What she lacks in scholarly temperament, she makes up for in courage and tenacity.

Lately, Carrie has grown more and more depressed about the state of the Roman Catholic Church, which she loves dearly. She has also assumed a large burden of suffering. She has cancer. The episodes she has shared of her battle with it have been truly touching. The Lord has placed a cross of considerable weight upon her shoulders.

Carrie recently published the final entry in her blog, which I include here:

I started blogging in 2003 because at the time I believed that things were turning around in the Church, that exposure of the hidden problems would be tantamount to resolving them. More fool I. I am no longer so naive. I no longer believe that exposure will effect change. I no longer believe that this blog serves any purpose at all except to waste thousands more of whatever hours I might have left.

And so, the time has come to say adieu to all of you and to retire to the rocking chair where I can read fluff novels with happy endings and forget I ever defined myself in terms of the Roman Catholic Church.
Obviously, her depression stems in some measure from the ordeal of her disease and the harrowing treatment of it. Still, it is unthinkable that the faith of a good woman should be allowed to slip away in this manner. I would ask everyone who spends time with the Pertinacious Papist to take a few moments to pray for Carrie, and to commiserate with her. Spend a little time on her blog, get to know her, and then leave a comment.

P.S - as of this morning, a more hopeful note has been added. Keep those cards and letters coming, folks.
  • Note: a parenthetical swipe at Mark Shea has been deleted from the original post, with apologies.
  • "Carrie Tomko" (Man with black hat, June 5, 2007) - for a thoughtful reflection.