Monday, March 29, 2010

Tebow too Christian to play football?

Brad A. Greenberg, "Tebow’s Christianity like NFL leprosy?" (, March 25, 2010):
This is getting ridiculous.

First Tim Tebow, one of the best football players ever to play the college game, had too elongated a throwing motion to play on Sundays. Now that his delivery is no longer an issue, NFL teams are worried about the “challenges” that would come with signing a rookie so overtly Christian.
Read more here.

[Hat tip to J.M.]

Friday, March 26, 2010

Loss of Graces: Private Masses vs. Concelebration

Peter A. Kwasniewski

Sitting at my desk one evening about ten years ago, I wrote excitedly in my journal about an overwhelming experience that morning.
“August 12th. The feast of Saint Clare. Thanks be to God, the greatest and best. This morning, by His unspeakable mercy, I was given the chance to attend a private old-rite Mass and receive the Lord: a gift worth more than all gifts. But without my having the slightest idea it would happen, He also granted me the privilege of serving this Mass, which was offered by the holy Abbot of Fontgombault. There is some sort of Benedictine retreat going on here at the Kartause for a week, with oblates from all over Europe in attendance, and three French abbots and many monks too, and there will be bishops visiting, etc. It’s all rather splendid. Yesterday I’d heard that a monk was going to say the old rite at 6:00, so I got up and came down for it, heading into the sacristy. I found out that the Abbot himself, taking precedence, was going to offer the day’s first Mass before other monks did, and, as I knew how to serve, he asked me if I would serve it. Laus Deo! It was the most peaceful Mass I have ever attended. The Abbot lingered over every phrase, and I honestly thought he was in an ecstasy during the Canon. I felt there were hundreds of souls and spirits in the chapel with us. I am speechless. Glory be to God.”
That is the kind of thing you really can’t forget, but even better, it’s the kind of thing you really can’t plan, either. The lack of planning is part of the gift. It comes like a thief in the night. You know you don’t deserve it, and it comes to you anyway, because the Lord is so good to us sinners.

The daily offering

The reason I’m recounting this story isn’t to focus on the experience itself, but rather on what it helped me to see about one important facet of our Catholic tradition, in a lesson that mingled pain with joy. This monk’s offering of the holy sacrifice for his own sins and for the sins of the world embodied in its very prayerfulness, by its God-focused intensity, an irrefutable justification for the long-standing custom of private Masses1 offered by individual monks prior to their conventual Mass, or, for that matter, by any priest who has the possibility of celebrating a daily Mass. I envisioned in my mind’s eye all of these monks quietly beseeching the divine mercy all over the world: a small army of Abraham’s “just men,” placating divine wrath and winning grace for sinners.

As most readers of this journal will know, up until the liturgical rupture it was customary for each priest who lived in a monastery or other religious community both to celebrate his own private Mass each morning and to assist at a communal or conventual Mass. The rationale was obvious: the Mass is the foremost act of religion, devotion, prayer, adoration, thanksgiving, and praise that any ministerial priest can offer, since it is none other than the immolation of the High Priest Himself. As Venerable Pope Pius XII explained: “It cannot be overemphasized that the Eucharistic sacrifice of its very nature is the unbloody immolation of the divine Victim, which is made manifest in a mystical manner by the separation of the sacred species and by their oblation to the eternal Father.”2 Each and every Mass pours forth the fruits of the sacrifice of Calvary into the Church, for the inestimable benefit of all the faithful—for the release of souls in purgatory, for the honor of the saints in heaven, and for the perseverance of souls on earth—and ultimately for the salvation of the entire world.3 Therefore, objectively speaking, the more Masses celebrated, the better off the world is.

In the maelstrom of postconciliar changes, the private Mass fell under a shadow of suspicion, even contempt. With rare exceptions, individual monks no longer celebrate private Masses. If there are several priests living in one place with one publicly scheduled Mass, they will generally concelebrate it. Surely there is something amiss here. The profound sacramental theology we inherit from the Middle Ages and the Council of Trent teaches us that each Mass—or to be more specific, each enactment of the mystical oblation on the altar—is a renewal and application of the saving event of the Cross, and as such, wins further pardon and actual graces for the human race. How, then, can this shift towards the communal be justified? Would not a denial that each priest should celebrate his own Mass each day imply at some level a repudiation of this theology, and with it, a downplaying of the Mass as a true propitiatory sacrifice? I am not speaking of a formal repudiation, such as Luther’s or Calvin’s, whereby the Mass is denied to be a sacramental representation of the sacrifice of Calvary. I mean a repudiation of the truth that each and every Mass advances the salvation of the world. If the practice of individual Masses is abandoned, it appears that personnel in the Church have made a decision that affects, nay retards, the salvation of sinners. A monastery in which twelve monks daily offered hoc sacrificium laudis is responsible for pouring out the grace of Calvary twelve times upon this timebound and ever-needy world of ours. The one all-sufficient sacrifice with its intrinsically infinite merit was applied concretely to us, to the world of sinners, a dozen times.4

Colossal difference

Priest extending arms after the consecration (Carmelite Rite)

Let’s examine a scenario more closely, to see if mystical theology and common sense can shake hands. Say you have eleven of these monks celebrating Mass at separate side altars each morning, followed later by the conventual Mass that the twelfth monk offers. You have twelve re-presentations of the Sacrifice of Calvary taking place. It is as if the veil separating earth from heaven was pierced twelve times to let the dew of grace fall through, that it might soak into the soil of our souls. Since the Eucharist as a sacrifice is propitiatory, it accomplishes what it represents: each time the Mass is offered, the fruits of the redemption are extended to souls throughout the world. As Pope Leo XIII stated: “Christ has willed that the whole power of His death, alike for expiation and impetration, should abide in the Eucharist, which is no mere empty commemoration thereof, but a true and wonderful though bloodless and mystical renewal of it.”5
Now, let’s say those twelve monks decide to stop celebrating their individual Masses and come together around the altar for one Mass — a single Mass, a single sacramental sacrifice. Certainly there may be several Mass intentions; each priest can bring his own intention and even accept a stipend for it. Nevertheless, when it comes to the immolation of the holy Victim, this Victim is made really present only once, and so the salvific offering of that Victim is made present only once. Extrapolate over the course of the year. At a more traditional monastery of twelve ordained monks, if we count not only the private Missae recitatae (recited or low Masses) but also the community Missae cantatae (chanted or high Masses), what do we find? The living symbols of the Lord’s Passion, the full dynamism of that mystery, will have been made present upon the altar about 4,800 times each year within the walls of their most fortunate church. At a monastery where the twelve scrapped their personal Masses for concelebrated ones, the number drops drastically, to, let’s say, 400 Masses a year. We are looking at a colossal difference in sacramental mediation, priestly intercession, the irruption into the world of the Precious Blood that washes away our sins. I don’t know about you, but it strikes me that several thousand applications of the saving Passion of Christ to a world drowning in sin and suffocating with guilt is a much better prospect for the salvation of men and societies than a few hundred. But that’s just the beginning; I limited myself to one small community of monks. Imagine the difference if we multiplied these figures for all Catholic priests across the face of the earth! By the singular privilege of their ordination and its sacred character, each of them is able to offer every day the one saving Sacrifice of Calvary, but so many, in the past forty years, have chosen instead to limit themselves to a single Mass celebrated en masse.6

The problem with concelebration

If one denies that the number has any significance, is he not on the way to denying the truth of secondary causality, the truth of the historicity or temporality of grace, the truth of the ministerial priesthood, the truth that God cares for creatures—He cares so much for them that it makes a difference to him whether there are still one or two or five just men in a city of criminals? In the Catholic theology of the Mass, each priest, as alter Christus acting in persona Christi, renews the one sacrifice of Calvary, in such a way that both sides of the mystery are safeguarded: (1) there is no other and no further sacrifice than that of Christ, which in itself and with nothing else supposed suffices for the salvation of the whole of creation; and (2) there are ordained priests conformed to and participating in the unique office of the High Priest, such that there are temporally distinct makings-present or presencings of Calvary, pouring the grace and merit of the High Priest into the hearts of men here and now. If you get rid of (2), you are a classical Protestant; if you get rid of (1), you are a liberal Protestant. If you retain both and see them as mutually reinforcing, you are a Catholic. To separate one from the other destroys the sacramental economy and the truth of the Incarnation no less than if one were to separate the natures and persons in Christ, as Nestorius did.7

The abandonment of private Masses in favor of conventual Masses, the sidelining of one-priest celebration in favor of many-priest concelebration, implicitly undermines the latter truth, namely, that there are temporally distinct presencings of Calvary which are in themselves really and truly channels of grace for the world. This confirms from yet another angle that the direction of the liturgical reform, as Michael Davies and others have long maintained, has an essentially classical Protestant trajectory.

Saint Thomas Aquinas was not unaware of the custom of concelebration used on rare occasions. An article of the Summa asks “Whether many priests can consecrate one and the same host?”8 As an argument in the affirmative he brings forward a fact: “according to the custom of certain [local] churches, priests, when they are newly ordained, concelebrate with the bishop who ordained them.”9 The body of the article mentions the same custom, comparing it to the Apostles supping together with Christ at the Last Supper, and notes that when there are many priests, all direct their several intentions to one and the same instant of consecration, so that they share but one intention. Replying to an objection, Saint Thomas goes so far as to say: “Since a priest consecrates only in the person of Christ, and the many are one in Christ, for this reason it makes no difference whether this sacrament is consecrated by one or by many, except that it is necessary to observe the rite of the Church.”10 In other words, concelebration involves many priests acting as one because they have a single intention to consecrate the Eucharist. There is, then, only one sacrifice taking place when many speak the words of consecration. But precisely for this reason, the Angelic Doctor sustains the common sense view mentioned above, for as he writes elsewhere in the Summa: “In many Masses, the offering of the sacrifice is multiplied, and therefore the effect of the sacrifice and of the sacrament is also multiplied.”11 So the next time someone says “There’s nothing the matter with concelebration,” you might counter: “Sure, it’s not morally wrong, but it robs the Church and the world of so many other Masses that could have been celebrated individually by those priests, and so it deprives us of many effects that might have been obtained.”

The Popes weigh in

Is this a view sustained by the papal Magisterium? Although understandably Pope Paul VI is no hero among lovers of liturgical tradition, we should not be especially surprised to find him upholding the custom of private Masses:
We should also mention “the public and social nature of every Mass,” a conclusion which clearly follows from the doctrine we have been discussing. For even though a priest should offer Mass in private, that Mass is not something private; it is an act of Christ and of the Church. In offering this Sacrifice, the Church learns to offer herself as a sacrifice for all. Moreover, for the salvation of the entire world she applies the single, boundless, redemptive power of the Sacrifice of the Cross. For every Mass is offered not for the salvation of ourselves alone, but also for that of the whole world. Hence, although the very nature of the action renders most appropriate the active participation of many of the faithful in the celebration of the Mass, nevertheless, that Mass is to be fully approved which, in conformity with the prescriptions and lawful traditions of the Church, a priest for a sufficient reason offers in private, that is, in the presence of no one except his server. From such a Mass an abundant treasure of special salutary graces enriches the celebrant, the faithful, the whole Church, and the entire world—graces which are not imparted in the same abundance by the mere reception of Holy Communion.12
This passage is from Paul VI’s encyclical Mysterium Fidei, promulgated in 1965, after the promulgation of the star-crossed Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium.13 In it we see reproduced with utter fidelity the doctrine of Pope Pius XII, who treated of the subject at some length in his majestic encyclical Mediator Dei of 1947. Two paragraphs in particular come to mind:

Some in fact disapprove altogether of those Masses which are offered privately and without any congregation, on the ground that they are a departure from the ancient way of offering the sacrifice; moreover, there are some who assert that priests cannot offer Mass at different altars at the same time, because, by doing so, they separate the community of the faithful and imperil its unity; while some go so far as to hold that the people must confirm and ratify the sacrifice if it is to have its proper force and value.

They are mistaken in appealing in this matter to the social character of the Eucharistic sacrifice, for as often as a priest repeats what the divine Redeemer did at the Last Supper, the sacrifice is really completed. Moreover, this sacrifice, necessarily and of its very nature, has always and everywhere the character of a public and social act, inasmuch as he who offers it acts in the name of Christ and of the faithful, whose Head is the divine Redeemer, and he offers it to God for the holy Catholic Church, and for the living and the dead. This is undoubtedly so, whether the faithful are present—as we desire and commend them to be in great numbers and with devotion—or are not present, since it is in no wise required that the people ratify what the sacred minister has done.14

It would be comparatively easy to assemble reams of testimonies from Tradition and tight theological argumentation in defense of what the Popes are teaching here. That being said, there is something more that we must not forget. When it comes to mysteries beyond the reach of reason, the truth is as much a matter of that mysterious center of the person we call the “heart” as it is of the mind—a matter of whether our spiritual instincts are right, our intuitions sound, and our inmost feelings harmonious with reality. Modernism, though it claims to be from and for our feelings, exudes the lifeless chill of rationalism and freezes whatever it touches. In contrast, the dogmas and practices of traditional Catholicism, though they have at their disposal armies of ironclad scholastic proofs, breathe and sing and sigh like the living presence they mediate to us in flesh and blood.

A stream of sacrifice poured up

With this in mind, let me return, in the end, to the beginning. In one of Robert Hugh Benson’s finest novels, The King’s Achievement (1904), there is a passage that deeply resonated with me when I first read it a few years ago, as it called back to mind the short but precious time I spent with the monks of Le Barroux as well as that early morning Mass with the Abbot of Fontgombault.15 At this point in Benson’s tale, the character Christopher Torridon, a young monk at Lewes Priory, is reflecting on the daily monastic routine’s all-encompassing goal: “the uttering of praises to Him who had made and was sustaining and would receive again all things to Himself.”
They [the monks] rose at midnight for the night-office, that the sleeping world might not be wholly dumb to God; went to rest again; rose once more with the world, and set about a yet sublimer worship. A stream of sacrifice poured up to the Throne through the mellow summer morning, or the cold winter darkness and gloom, from altar after altar in the great church. Christopher remembered pleasantly a morning soon after the beginning of his novitiate when he had been in the church as a set of priests came in and began Mass simultaneously. The mystical fancy suggested itself as the hum of voices began that he was in a garden, warm and bright with grace, and that bees about him were making honey—that fragrant sweetness of which it had been said long ago that God should eat—and as the tinkle of the Elevation sounded out here and there, it seemed to him as a signal that the mysterious confection was done, and that every altar sprang into perfume from those silver vessels set with jewel and crystal.16
Now, I know there are lots of scholarly studies and popular pamphlets (especially from the 1960s and 1970s) questioning or rejecting private Masses and defending concelebration. Earlier still, Karl Rahner had sown seeds of doubt with his characteristically dense and subtle speculations. The shelves of seminary libraries groan with such materials. After slogging through page after page of effete archaeologism and voodoo sociology, however, what I always want to know is this: Why is it so hard for these people to see what Christopher Torridon (that is, Robert Hugh Benson), and generations of simple believers over the centuries have seen? It consoles me to know that every day, every year that passes, slowly but surely, the Eternal High Priest is drawing the hearts of His ministers back to the altar of God, for the service of which they were ordained; that He is calling them to “worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam. As our Holy Father said in his homily for Midnight Mass this past Christmas: “The Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later.”+


  1. Editor's Note: Given the confusion surrounding this topic, it is important to define the term "private Mass." Joseph Jungmann's seminal work on the liturgy has this to say about the subject: "From these Masses said in private homes, or on an estate or at a graveside where at least a group of people, however small, attends the sservice, we must carefully distinguish the private Mass strictly so called. This we understand as a Mass celebrated for its own sake, with no thought of anyone participating, a Mass where only the prescribed server is in attendance, or even where no one is present, as was once the case in the so-called Missa solitaria. These are Masses -- contrasted to the conventual Mass and the parochial Mass -- which are most generally referred to in medieval documents as missae privatae or speciales or peculiares (J. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite [Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1986], I:215). [back]

  2. Pius XII, Mediator Dei (1947), n. 115; cf. nn. 68-70. [back]

  3. Ibid., nn. 71-75. [back]

  4. Note that if there are twelve Priests in the community, one of them would not celebrate a private Mass that day in order to be the Priest who offers the conventual Mass in the midst of his brethren. No Priest celebrates twice a day (bination) unless pastoral need requires it, which would not be the case in such a community. [back]

  5. Leo XIII, Mirae Caritatis (1902), n. 18. [back]

  6. Some have objected that this kind of language "quantifies" grace. It does not. Rather, we must guard against "transcendentalizing" grace so that it ceases to be connected to space and time. [back]

  7. Nestorianism is "one of the great heresies of the fifth century, which broke the personal unity of Christ by positing in him two subjects [i.e., persons], one Divine and one human" (Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology [Milwaukee: Bruce, 1951], 199). In reality there is only one Person in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who assumed human nature when "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." [back]

  8. Summa theologiae III, q. 82, a. 2. [back]

  9. Ibid., sed contra. [back]

  10. Ibid., ad. 2. [back]

  11. Summa theologiae III, q. 79, ad 3: "In pluribus vero Missis multiplicatur sacrificii oblatio, et ideo multiplicatur effectus sacrificii et sacramenti." In this context St. Thomas is explaining why receiving many hosts at the same Mass does not increase the effect of the sacrament, whereas many Masses does redound to greater good. [back]

  12. Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei (1965), n. 17. [back]

  13. In fact, the Pope is quoting from that constitution in the first sentence of the excerpt, which echoes a similar phrase from Pius XII. [back]

  14. Mediator Dei, nn. 95-96. [back]

  15. My experience with the monks at Le Barroux is recounted in my article "Contemplation of Unchanging Truth," The Latin Mass vol. 17, n. 5 (Advent/Christmas 2008). [back]

  16. Robert Hugh Benson, The King's Achievement, ed. with a foreword by Francis X. Connolly (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1957), 86. [back]

[Dr. Peter A. Kwasniewski is Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming. The present article, "Loss of Graces: Private Masses vs. Concelebration," was originally published in The Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Winter 2010), pp. 6-9, and is reprinted here by kind permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060, and the author.]

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Special Weekday High Masses for 2010

Tridentine Community News (March 21, 2010):
As in 2009, St. Josaphat Church will be holding special Tridentine High Masses (Missa Cantata) on most of the First and Second Class Feast Days on which a Gloria and Credo are specified. Attending Holy Mass on these days is an excellent way to integrate the most important feasts of the Church calendar into your lives. All Masses are at St. Josaphat Church at 7:00 PM unless otherwise indicated.

Thursday, March 25: Annunciation (High Mass at St. Theresa, Windsor at 7:00 PM; High Mass at 7:00 PM as well at St. Josaphat)

Saturday, May 1: St. Joseph the Worker (At St. Joseph Church, time yet to be determined)

Tuesday, May 11: Ss. Philip & James, Apostles

Thursday, May 13: Ascension (Holy Day of Obligation in the Tridentine calendar in U.S.)

Monday, May 24: Pentecost Monday

Monday, May 31: Queenship of Mary

Thursday, June 24: Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Tuesday, June 29: Ss. Peter & Paul, Apostles

Thursday, July 1: Precious Blood

Friday, July 2: Visitation

Friday, August 6: Transfiguration

Tuesday, August 24: St. Bartholomew, Apostle

Wednesday, September 8: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin

Tuesday, September 14: Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Wednesday, September 15: Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin

Tuesday, September 21: St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist

Wednesday, September 29: Dedication of St. Michael the Archangel

Monday, October 18: St. Luke, Evangelist

Thursday, October 28: Ss. Simon & Jude, Apostles

Monday, November 1: All Saints (Holy Day of Obligation in U.S.)

Tuesday, November 2: All Souls

Tuesday, November 9: Dedication of the Archbasilica of Our Savior (St. John Lateran)

Tuesday, November 20: St. Andrew, Apostle

Wednesday, December 8: Immaculate Conception (Holy Day of Obligation in U.S.)

Tuesday, December 21: St. Thomas, Apostle

Monday, December 27: St. John, Apostle & Evangelist

Tuesday, December 28: Holy Innocents

Bishop Boyea Celebrates First Mass in Jackson

Diocese of Lansing Bishop Earl Boyea continues to support the Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass. On Sunday, February 7, His Excellency celebrated a Missa Cantata at St. Joseph Church, Jackson. This was the first time that a bishop of the Lansing Diocese has celebrated Mass for the Jackson Tridentine Mass Community.

Latin Continues To Grow In Popularity

One of our intrepid readers reports that Fr. Nick Zukowski, pastor of St. Mary Queen of Creation in New Baltimore, Michigan, held a one-time-only Ordinary Form Latin Mass last Saturday, March 13 at 4:30 PM. Fr. Zukowski explained in his parish bulletin that he wanted to expose his congregation to the tradition of Latin in the liturgy. Steps such as this, simple though they might seem, were unimaginable even a decade ago. Our priests should always be thanked for taking initiatives such as this.

Vatican Best-Seller: New Extraordinary Form Altar Missal

In another sign of the times, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the publishing arm of the Vatican, has just published an altar missal for the Tridentine Mass. It immediately became the Vatican’s best-selling book, as the below screen-shot indicates. It is priced at $334, more than Roman Catholic Books’ popular $110 altar missal, yet less than PCP Books’ $460 reprint of the Benzinger missal.

While we have not yet seen a copy, it is likely that this is a reprint of the Vatican’s 1962 edition (a very rare but extant book), perhaps with the addition of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 Good Friday Prayer for the Jews. The Church is still in need of a brand-new Extraordinary Form Missal, in digital form, edited for accuracy, and not just a high-quality photocopy of an older edition. This is a critical step to be undertaken if additional feasts or prefaces are to be added to the Traditional Mass. The Missále Románum must be made more easy to update, as the 1962 edition cannot reasonably be expected to last forever. Fortunately, this very project is under consideration, but that is a topic for another day.
[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 March 21, 2010. Hat tip to A.B.]

Would you buy a used car from this man?

If so, there's a bridge in Brooklyn he would also be willing to sell you, and he would even be willing to throw in a health care reform bill with some Mary Jane on the side.

Pope: 1960s fed Church's recent sex scandals

Sandro Magister, "Genesis of a Crime. The Revolution of the 1960's" (www.chiesa, March 25, 2010): "The scandal of pedophilia has always been there, but it was magnified by the cultural revolution of half a century ago. Benedict XVI makes the claim in his letter to the Catholics of Ireland. Two cardinals and a sociologist comment."

Related: Gerald Warner, "Catholic sex abuse scandal: time to sack trendy bishops and restore the faith" (, March 22, 2010) -- [Advisory: Warner is on an unrestrained tirade here, but one which the recent scandals in Ireland may help render at least understandable.]

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Some highlights from our record of federal programs

  • The U.S. Post Service was established in 1775. The federal government has had had 234 years to get it right and it is broke.
  • Social Security was established in 1935. The federal government has had 74 years to get it right and it is broke.
  • Fannie Mae was established in 1938. The federal government has had 71 years to get it right and it is broke.
  • The War on Poverty started in 1964 under Lyndon B. Johnson. The federal government has had 45 years to get it right; $1 trillion of our money is garnered annually and transferred to "the poor" and the feds only want more.
  • Medicare and Medicaid were established in 1965. The federal government has had 44 years to get it right and they are broke.
  • Freddie Mac was established in 1970. The federal government has had 39 years to get it right and it is broke.
  • The Department of Energy was created in 1977 to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. It has ballooned to 16,000 employees with a budget of $24 billion a year and we import more oil than ever before. The federal government has had 32 years to get it right and it is an abysmal failure.
The federal government has implemented some high-minded ideas over the years, but it has FAILED in every "public service" it has presumed to provide while overspending our tax dollars at unconscionable levels. The present administration is asking Americans to believe it can be trusted with a government-run health care system. With its track record of dismal failures, not to mention the current administration's levels of spending and executive over-reaching within its first year, it's a wonder anyone can be so sanguine as to trust the government. The quarrel that the majority of American people have with their government is not over good health care, or the needed reform of the bloated health insurance systems. They have little trouble in principle with supporting that. Furthermore, they want health coverage not just for themselves but for everyone. Americans have been historically a generous people. The problem they have is not with reforming the health care system, but trusting their government bureaucracy to run it.

[Hat tip to J.S.]

Gone: the American political center

Ross Douthat, "Sympathy for Bart Stupak" (New York Times, March 24, 2010):
Yes, the executive order that Stupak accepted as cover for his pivotal health care vote is probably meaningless. And yes, the health care bill, as passed, effectively tilts public policy in a more pro-choice direction: The fact that women are required to write a separate check for abortion coverage means that public money isn’t literally paying for abortion, but it doesn’t change the fact that federal dollars are being spent in ways that make it much easier to obtain abortion-covering insurance. (And that’s without getting into the tangled issue of community health centers.) But what struck me most, at the end, wasn’t the folly of Stupak’s decision to compromise his pro-life principles by voting “yes,” but the extraordinary loneliness of his position before he folded.

Here was a politician who embodies what a half-century ago would have been considered the sensible center in American politics — economically liberal, socially conservative — and whose politics represent a good faith effort to live out the social teaching of America’s largest religious body, the Roman Catholic Church.
[Hat tip to E.E.]

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The silver lining

There are a whopping nine faithful Catholics in Congress who oppose the public funding of abortion. That's really good news. Faithful, shining witnesses to the truth of the Gospel. Nine. Out of 136 Catholics in Congress. The rest of whom support the public funding of abortion.

Let me see ... When Abraham was negotiating with God on the number of righteous men in Sodom for the sake of which God would not destroy it, how many was the minimum, do you remember?

Genesis 18:32 --
Then [Abraham] said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?" And [the Lord] answered, "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it."
Oh, crap.

Yo Nanny State

America, you know you wanted it. That's what you said when you voted Mr. Obama into office. Congratulations on your clear and honest victory in the House vote. It's got to make you happy knowing that nobody in your party would stoop to tapping stimulus package slush funds to buy the votes to win your bill, like that $726,409 in airport grants allegedly awarded to Pro-Life Democrat Bart Stupak by the Obama administration two days before the House vote. It has to be gratifying to know, furthermore, that those Rasmussen Reports showing Mr. Obama at a 41% disapproval rating, and that Babe on the Hill, Ms. Pelosi, at an 11% approval rating, are only the instruments of Republican propaganda. Cheerio.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Happy Dependence Day

Yes, I liked Mark Steyn's headline best. But "Stupak, You're a Wuss" would have done just fine. As would have "Prepare to Reap the Whirlwind."

The end of the world may not be just around the corner, but what you can expect in the interim is higher insurance premiums, longer wait times at your local HMO, and fewer doctors on staff. Wouldn't you bail out of your profession if you were a doctor under Obamacare? I know two who are talking about it and one who has. Nothing about this bill is cheap, despite the impressively successful effort of the administration to dupe the impressionable viewers of MSNBC, CBS, and NBC.

Ultimately, of course, such pessimism is unbecoming. One should always look on the 'bright' side of life: this massive govermentalization of health care will mean at least that, in the long run, abortion will be underwritten by the federal government and no longer have to be paid for out-of-pocket by John Q. Citizen; and if you make it to your seventies or eighties, and they can't afford to fund your bypass surgery (and they surely won't), they'll surely be happy to fund your euthanasia.

Have a nice day.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Anti-Catholic Catholic dioceses?

"Why is Cardinal Mahony promoting such speakers?" (California Daily Catholic, March 16, 2010): "Group calls for picketing at LA archdiocese’s 2010 Religious Education Congress, calls it ‘dissent-fest’." Imagine, Catholics having to picket outside an archdiocesan-sponsored event (the world's largest training event for Catholic schoolteachers, held this year in Annaheim, CA), and call for an end to the archdiocesan promotion of public dissent from Church teaching.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Indulgences: Taking Advantage of God's Mercy

by Michael P. Foley

Lent is upon us, and with it a greater opportunity for obtaining indulgences. Most Catholics are unaware of this treasure at their disposal: they view indulgences as an embarrassing relic of a corrupt medieval past, one from which the Church since Vatican II has wisely distanced herself. Their ignorance and suspicion is in turn shared by other Christians, not only anti-intellectual fundamentalists but even the well-educated. Last March, several representatives of Reformation communities visited Rome for the Pauline year and waxed critical of a recent indulgence granted to those who went on pilgrimage to the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. Their reaction prompted a helpful clarification from Walter Cardinal Kasper.1


One of the problems about discussing indulgences, the Cardinal pointed out, is that we must first grasp the deeper Catholic understanding of grace and sin. That understanding emanates from one conviction: that every sinner can become a saint. “Justification” for a Catholic does not simply mean believing that Jesus Christ is one’s personal Lord and Savior; it means becoming a living icon of Christ inside and out, a luminous reflection of the glory of God, a full restoration of the divine image and likeness in which we are made.

In the words of Dietrich von Hildebrand, “We should not forget that the Church’s doctrine of justification insists on the possibility of men being fully transformed in Christ, of their becoming saints. It is here that the deepest differences between the Catholic Church and Luther’s doctrine of sola fides is to be found.”2
Catholics believe that the grace bought for us through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ does not simply “impute” the divine charges against us in an external, forensic, or legalist manner so that we can slip into heaven without being internally changed, like a letter processed in the mail. Rather, grace not only forgives but washes away, heals, restores, and transforms.

Further, Catholics understand sin to be not just a transgression against God but a self-laceration or self-mutilation. Saint Augustine said it best: “For so you have ordained it, O Lord, and so it is: that every disorder of the soul is its own punishment.”3 Every sin is a disorder of the soul, and every disorder reaps an effect, both on myself and on others around me. Specifically, my sins pollute and corrupt myself and the rest of the world.

Consequently, the complete triumph over sin requires not only forgiveness but a healing of the wounds that sin has inflicted. Note that there is a difference between forgiveness and healing, just as there is a difference between your being saved on the operating table (which the surgeon wrought without your cooperation) and then spending the next several weeks in rehab, cooperating with the physician in your recovery. Forgiveness removes the bullet of sin, but the effects of this spiritual gunshot wound are still there and still in need of healing. This is why in the sacrament of Confession our sins our completely forgiven, but we are still given penance by the priest. Penance does not “ratify” our being forgiven or substitute for forgiveness or forgive us a second or third time; it is there to aid in the healing process, to remedy the effects of sin after the sin itself has been removed.


This brings us to indulgences. Like the penance we do after receiving absolution in Confession, indulgences are there to help us remedy the effects that our sins have had on our souls. According to Canon Law, an indulgence is a
remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints (992).
This is a fulsome definition which requires some explanation. First, “an indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.” As we have explained, indulgences concern healing, not forgiving. The wounds of sin are their own punishment, yet even this punishment, when it is temporal rather than eternal, is remedial, ordered towards our healing and recovery. An indulgence, then, is the substitution of one form of God’s healing (remedial punishment) with another that is less painful.

Second, a Christian gains an indulgence “through the action of the Church.” Spiritual healing does not happen simply by dint of our own efforts: it is dependent on the store of graces that Christ’s victory and the merits of the saints make available. This store is called the thesaurus Ecclesiae, the treasury of the Church, and by the authority of Saint Peter’s successor, who has been given the keys to this treasure trove (Matthew 16:19), the Church dispenses it through indulgences. By doing indulgenced acts or reciting indulgenced prayers, we cooperate with the Divine Physician in accelerating the healing process of our souls. A “plenary” indulgence grants complete healing or full remission of temporal punishment, whereas a “partial” indulgence remits only some temporal punishment and confers only partial healing.

Third, a Christian must be “duly disposed” and fulfill “certain prescribed conditions.” Such qualifications remind us that indulgences are not a “Get Out of Purgatory Free” card, where the lucky winner gets into Heaven on a technicality while remaining the same warped and deviant sinner. Their purpose is the same as that of the Christian life in general: the complete transformation of the believer into a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. That is why Canon Law speaks of the believer needing to be duly disposed and fulfilling certain conditions. To obtain a plenary indulgence, for example, four conditions must be met:
  1. The sacrament of confession (a single confession may suffice for several plenary indulgences; one may go to confession within a period of about twenty days before or after doing the indulgenced act);
  2. Holy Communion (a separate Holy Communion is required for each plenary indulgence; the Church recommends but does not require that this be done on the same day as the indulgenced act);
  3. Prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father (usually by means of an Our Father and a Hail Mary; a separate act of praying for the Holy Father is required for each plenary indulgence, and it is likewise recommended that this be done on the same day);
  4. The interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin.
Note the pervasive focus on transformation. Confession and Communion are healing sacraments, meant to aid in our spiritual conversion, to increase our charity and our unity with Christ. Similarly, for an indulgence to be plenary, the penitent must not only be free from sin but free from any attachment to sin. This is a tall order: Saint Philip Neri (d. 1595) was once granted a vision in a crowded church that revealed who was receiving the plenary indulgence being offered. There were only two: himself and an old charwoman! Fortunately, one can still receive a partial indulgence if one falls short of a plenary.

It is not necessary to fulfill these conditions for a partial indulgence. To obtain any kind of indulgence, however, one must have a general intention to do so. Consequently, many “Morning Offerings” include statements such as, “I have the intention to gain all the indulgences attached to the prayers I shall say and to the good works I shall perform this day,” and “I resolve to gain all the indulgences I can in favor of the souls in Purgatory.”4

Further, as this second statement implies, an indulgence may not be applied to another living person, but it can be applied to the deceased. Applying an indulgence to the souls in Purgatory makes sense because they are in the process of being purged or healed of the effects of their sins that have been forgiven; like us, they are undergoing temporal punishment which indulgences have the power to remit. And the fact that indulgences can be applied to the departed is a beautiful illustration of a central Christian teaching, that death has no sway over the mystical Body of Christ. After the Resurrection, Christ’s Body is never to be sundered again, and that Body includes us, His baptized faithful. The Church on earth therefore has the capacity to help the faithful in Purgatory every bit as much as she can help the faithful on earth, for death is nothing to those who live in Christ.

Dante in Purgatory by Gustave Doré

Finally, one may gain several partial indulgences in the course of a day but only one plenary indulgence. Putting all of these facts together, it is theoretically possible to receive a plenary indulgence, either for oneself or for the dead, once a day if one is a daily communicant who goes to Confession every two or three weeks.

The Enduring Myth

There are several myths about indulgences, the most enduring of which is the notion that the Church used to sell indulgences and that this corrupt practice was one of the causes of the Protestant Reformation. This claim, solemnly reported in secular history books, is a distortion of the facts.

The Church has never sold spiritual graces for money; what it did allow in the Middle Ages was an indulgence to be attached to charitable donations. There is obviously nothing wrong with donating to a charity or church. In the late Middle Ages, however, this practice was scandalously abused for clerical profit, especially in Luther’s Germany where a real-life monk named John Tetzel rivaled in odiousness Chaucer’s fictional Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales. It was because the theoretically sound practice of indulgencing charitable donations was so vulnerable to abuse that the Council of Trent decided that it was best to discontinue it. But it is inaccurate to say that the Church “stopped selling indulgences,” for it never sold them to begin with.


Another myth is that the Church “dropped” indulgences after Vatican II. The New York Times, with its typical grasp of Catholic subtleties, ran an article last year under the title “For Catholics, a Door to Absolution Is Reopened.” The internet version has an additional title: “Indulgences Return, and Heaven Moves a Step Closer for Catholics.”5 Note the numerous flaws in the titles alone: no door was re-opened, nothing returned, and indulgences, as we have already seen, are not a form of absolution. The NYT’s mélange of facts and falsehoods went on to inspire a number of shrill editorial harrumphing across the country about the Church’s alleged slide back into the “Dark Ages.”

The truth is that in 1968 Pope Paul VI issued a new Enchiridion of Indulgences.6 This marked a change for the Church, for it replaced the Raccolta or Manual of Indulgences familiar still to many traditional Catholics.7 The Raccolta is a gem, containing over 600 pages of prayers and invocations for virtually every occasion or devotion. Though the indulgences attached to it are now outdated, it is still a must-have for every traditional family.

Two changes in Paul VI’s Enchiridion are immediately noticeable. First, it omits any temporal reference to partial indulgences. Under the older arrangement, one would see statements such as “300 days” or “five years” attached to a partial indulgence. These figures, based on the stringent penitential sentences of the early Church, were used to provide some measurement of the efficacy of a partial indulgence. Unfortunately, however, many took the numbers to indicate how much one’s stay in Purgatory was being shortened, a misconception not only about indulgences but about Purgatory, which as a reality outside of time has no days or years. Though the loss of some sort of ruler is lamentable, one can understand the Pope’s desire to avoid such confusion.

Second, the new Enchiridion is far shorter: the 781 previously indulgenced prayers and works were reduced to 73. The disadvantage of this change is that many beautiful prayers have essentially been forgotten, but this does not necessarily mean that Paul VI was an enemy of these prayers or of indulgences as a whole. This can be seen in the Enchiridion’s unprecedented three “general grants” preceding the seventy particular indulgences. The first grants a partial indulgence to those who “in the performance of their duties and bearing the trials of life, raise their mind with humble confidence to God, adding, even if only mentally, some pious invocation.”8 The second grants a partial indulgence to those who “in a spirit of faith and mercy, give of themselves or of their goods to serve their brothers in need.”9 The third grants a partial indulgence to those who “in a spirit of penance, voluntarily deprive themselves of what is licit and pleasing to them.”10

The significance of these additions cannot be underestimated. Rather than limit indulgences, the pope expanded them through these general grants to virtually any prayer, good work, or abstinence, including those in the old Raccolta.11 Contrary to the widespread impression that the Church after Vatican II wished to “get away” from indulgences, she actually increased their availability.

Lenten Indulgences

There are several indulgences available during the holy season of Lent. These include the following:

A plenary indulgence for reciting the prayer “Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus” on every Friday in Lent and Passiontide when recited after Holy Communion before an image of Christ crucified. On any other day the indulgence is partial (no. 22).

A plenary indulgence for those who piously make the Way of the Cross. There must be fourteen stations and movement from one station to the next, unless the stations are made publicly and it is not possible for everyone taking part to go from station to station except the one conducting the exercise (63).

A plenary indulgence for those who recite the Tantum ergo on Holy Thursday (59).

A plenary indulgence for devoutly assisting in the adoration of the Cross and kissing it during a Good Friday liturgical service (17).
And as we mentioned above with the second general grant, a partial indulgence is attached to any voluntary act of fasting or abstinence. Since the Lenten fast is no longer obligatory (except on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday), any Catholic who observes the traditional forty-day fast can obtain thirty-eight partial indulgences.12

Indulgences Per Annum

In addition to these seasonal indulgences, it is also helpful to recall that throughout the year one can obtain a partial indulgence for reciting the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed (16), the litanies of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Most Precious Blood of Jesus, Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and all Saints (29, the Magnificat (30), Memorare (32), and Miserere Mei, that is, Psalm 50 (33), the Collect of the saint whose feast day it is (54), and for using any article of devotion (crucifix, cross, rosary, scapular, etc.) properly blessed by a priest (35). There is even a partial indulgence for making the sign of the cross (55).

There are plenary indulgences, on the other hand, for a family recitation of the rosary (48), a public recitation of the rosary in a church (48), and a visit to the Blessed Sacrament or a private reading of Sacred Scripture for at least half an hour (3, 50, resp.).


We began with the observation that Catholics believe that every sinner, no matter how depraved, can become a saint. We also intimated that the transformation from one to another is a fairly extensive endeavor, which is why we should be grateful for spiritual salves like indulgences that the Church continues to make abundantly available. Indulgences are outstanding instances of God’s great generosity, a special means by which we can cooperate with our Lord in the emotional, psychological, and spiritual reformation of our souls. Catholics should not hesitate to be positively avaricious in their desire to take advantage of this gracious cure.+


  1. See "Explain Indulgences to Help Ecumenism,", 2/10/09. For a good explanation of the theology of indulgences, see Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution Enchiridion of Indulgences (1968) and the 2000 document Gift of the Indulgence from the Apostolic Penitentiary, the branch of the Vatican that deals with indulgences. The FSSP also has a nice summary in their 2010 Liturgical Ordo. [back]

  2. Trojan Horse in the City of God(Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Press, 1993), p. 259. [back]

  3. Saint Augustine's Confessions 2/12/1919, trans. Frank Sheed, ed. Michael P. Foley (Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett, 2005). [back]

  4. Taken from Rev. F.X. Lasance, My Prayer-Book: Happiness in Goodness (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1908), 209. [back]

  5. By Paul Vitello, 2/10/09. Cf. [back]

  6. Copies of this are easy to obtain. A word search of "Enchiridion of Indulgences" can find versions of it online (the Vatican website has it in Latin only); it can also be purchased in book form unter the titles Manual of Indulgences (USCCB and Apostolic Penitentiary, 2006) or Handbook of Indulgences (Catholic Book Publishing, 1992). [back]

  7. The last English edition was published by Benziger Bros. in 1957. It has been since reprinted by Marian House. [back]

  8. This grant is intended to "serve as an incentive to the faithful to practice the commandment of Christ that 'they must always pray and not lose heart' (Luke 18:1)." [back]

  9. This grant is intended to "seve as an incentive to the faithful to perform more frequent acts of charity and mercy" (John 13:15; Acts 10:38). [back]

  10. This grant is intended to "the faithful to bridle their passions and thus to bring their bodies into subjection and to conform themselves to Christ in his poverty and suffering" (Matthew 8:20, Matthew 16:24). [back]

  11. This is also confirmed in Indulgence no. 28: "A partial indulgence [is granted] to those who spend some time in pious mental prayer." [back]

  12. Those living in or visiting Rome should also know that a partial indulgence is granted to those who on the day indicated in the Roman Missal devoutly visit the stational Church of the day; if they also assist at the sacred functions celebrated in the morning or evening, a plenary indulgence is granted (56). [back]

[Michael P. Foley is associate professor of patristics at Baylor University. He is author of Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday?: The Catholic Origin to Just About Everything(Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and Wedding Rites: A Complete Guide to Traditional Vows, Music, Ceremonies, Blessings, and Interfaith Services(Eerdmans, 2008). Dr. Foley's article, "Indulgences: Taking Advantage of God's Mercy," Latin Mass: The Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition Vol. 19, No. 1 (Winter 2010), pp. 44-47, is reproduced here by kind permission of Latin Mass, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060, and the author.]

The Will to Believe: Political Messianism

People were created to worship God. They have an innate need to believe and worship. As St. Paul says that those who "suppress the truth" have "exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator ..." (Romans 1:18b, 25a). Again, as G.K. Chesterton said,"When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing — they believe in anything." And that is a bizarre thing, if not scary thing.

The 450 years of exponential growth in secularization since the beginning of the Age of Reason have taken their toll. The leading edge of secular thought has passed successively from a theistic consensus in the 17th century, through successive phases of deism, naturalism, nihilism existentialism, into a postmodern wasteland without heroes and with gods. But to paraphrase Pascal, there's "a God-Shaped Hole in all of us" that nothing else can fill. We may try to fill it with all sorts of trash (the word he used was stronger), but nothing other than the true God ultimately satisfies.

The longing of the masses for a god, a savior, a redeemer, is something a Christian finds a bit terrifying when he sees it misdirected towards the creature rather than the Creator. Terrifying because no creature -- certainly no human being -- can bear the weight of an incarnate deity, not to mention the transgression of usurping the Throne in the heart of man that can be occupied rightfully only by God.

This longing of the masses for a god to worship -- this recrudescence of the ancient temptation of the Children of Israel to run after false gods -- was not far beneath the surface in the emotional affect elicited from the crowds by Mr. Obama in his campaign speeches before the last presidential election. It came to a head in the outpouring of evangelical enthusiasm and messianic expectation that filled Denver's Mile-High Stadium where Mr. Obama delivered his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on August 29, 2008, amidst trappings reminiscent of Imperial Rome where the Emperor was saluted as god incarnate.

While the wild enthusiasm of those campaigning days may have worn off, the God-shaped hole in peoples' hearts has not, as evidenced by the continuing mystical aura of messianic hope projected upon him. Two examples of this continuing 'worship' have come my way in the last week -- an advertisement for a commemorative doll (yes, a doll) and a school musical performance. First, the doll:

A Commemorative Doll to Cherish!

Obama, Birth of HOPE

Not available in stores

Price: $149.99 US
The Ashton-Drake Galleries

Second, the musical performance:

[Hat tip to J.S. and Internet Romish Graffiti]

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The lesson of St. Patrick for our political outlook today

The_Anchoress, “Fear is useless, what is needed is trust” (First Things, March 17, 2010): "Pondering the possibility of America being “remade” under the auspices of a Health Care Non-Vote-Deeming, I found myself thinking of St. Patrick, and the conflict between the English and the Irish; the Irish famine and the longview of God, which we cannot see or understand...."

[Hat tip to J.M.]

The second Chant Workshop: The Modes

with Wassim Sarweh
(Organist and Choir Director at St. Josaphat,Detroit)

Saturday, March 20, 2010
9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
St. Joseph Church Hall,1828 Jay St.,Detroit

No experience necessary! Open to anyone interested in chant in any way, from amateur singers and/or curious observers to choir masters and/or professional musicians

Topics include:
The 8 modes of Gregorian Chant
Understanding rhythms
Brief history
Singing/conducting chant
Understanding the many methods of chant
And more...

Materials will be provided
2:00 p.m. Private sung mass in the Extraordinary Form at St. Joseph Church
Registration: $30 (includes simple lunch); $15 students
Free for priests and clergy
Materials and a cold lunch will be provided
Contact info:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Introduction to the Spirit of the Liturgy by Msgr. Guido Marini, Part 6 of 6

Tridentine Community News (March 14, 2010):
On January 6, 2010 a landmark speech was given by Msgr. Guido Marini, the Pontifical Master of Liturgical Ceremonies, at the Year For Priests Clergy Conference in Rome. There is no need to speculate on what Rome believes is suitable liturgy when clear direction such as this is given. Msgr. Marini was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to reform papal liturgies according to our Holy Father’s thinking. We believe Msgr. Marini’s words speak for themselves, and so we are presenting his speech in its entirety.
I wish to discuss this point further. Are we truly certain that the promotion of an active participation consists in rendering everything to the greatest extent possible immediately comprehensible? May it not be the case that entering into God’s Mystery might be facilitated and, sometimes, even better accompanied by that which touches principally the reasons of the heart? Is it not often the case that a disproportionate amount of space is given over to empty and trite speech, forgetting that both dialogue and silence belong in the liturgy, congregational singing and choral music, images, symbols, gestures? Do not, perhaps, also the Latin language, Gregorian Chant, and sacred polyphony belong to this manifold language which conducts us to the center of the mystery?

5. Sacred or liturgical music.

There is no doubt that a discussion, in order to introduce itself authentically into the spirit of the liturgy, cannot pass over sacred or liturgical music in silence.

I will limit myself to a brief reflection in way of orienting the discussion. One might wonder why the Church by means of its documents, more or less recent, insists in indicating a certain type of music and singing as particularly consonant with the liturgical celebration. Already at the time of the Council of Trent the Church intervened in the cultural conflict developing at that time, reestablishing the norm whereby music conforming to the sacred text was of primary importance, limiting the use of instruments and pointing to a clear distinction between profane and sacred music. Sacred music, moreover, must never be understood as a purely subjective expression. It is anchored to the biblical or traditional texts which are to be sung during the course of the celebration. More recently, Pope Saint Pius X intervened in an analogous way, seeking to remove operatic singing from the liturgy and selecting Gregorian Chant and polyphony from the time of the Catholic reformation as the standard for liturgical music, to be distinguished from religious music in general. The second Vatican Council did naught but reaffirm the same standard, so too the more recent magisterial documents.

Why does the Church insist on proposing certain forms as characteristic of sacred and liturgical music which make them distinct from all other forms of music? Why, also, do Gregorian Chant and the classical sacred polyphony turn out to be the forms to be imitated, in light of which liturgical and even popular music should continue to be produced today?

The answer to these questions lies precisely in what we have sought to assert with regard to the spirit of the liturgy. It is properly those forms of music, in their holiness, their goodness, and their universality, which translate in notes, melodies, and singing the authentic liturgical spirit: by leading to adoration of the mystery celebrated, by favouring an authentic and integral participation, by helping the listener to capture the sacred and thereby the essential primacy of God acting in Christ, and finally by permitting a musical development that is anchored in the life of the Church and the contemplation of its mystery.

Allow me to quote the then Cardinal Ratzinger one last time: “Gandhi highlights three vital spaces in the cosmos, and demonstrates how each one of them communicates even its own mode of being. Fish live in the sea and are silent. Terrestrial animals cry out, but the birds, whose vital space is the heavens, sing. Silence is proper to the sea, crying out to the earth, and singing to the heavens. Man, however, participates in all three: he bares within him the depth of the sea, the weight of the earth, and the height of the heavens; this is why all three modes of being belong to him: silence, crying out, and song. Today...we see that, devoid of transcendence, all that is left to man is to cry out, because he wishes to be only earth and seeks to turn into earth even the heavens and the depth of the sea. The true liturgy, the liturgy of the Communion of Saints, restores to him the fullness of his being. It teaches him anew how to be silent and how to sing, opening to him the profundity of the sea and teaching him how to fly, the nature of an angel; elevating his heart, it makes that song resonate in him once again which had in a way fallen asleep. In fact, we can even say that the true liturgy is recognisable especially when it frees us from the common way of living, and restores to us depth and height, silence, and song. The true liturgy is recognisable by the fact that it is cosmic, not custom made for a group. It sings with the angels. It remains silent with the profound depth of the universe in waiting. And in this way it redeems the world.” (trans. from the Italian.)

At this point I would like to conclude the discussion. For some years now, several voices have been heard within Church circles talking about the necessity of a new liturgical renewal. Of a movement, in some ways analogous to the one which formed the basis for the reform promoted by the second Vatican Council, capable of operating a reform of the reform, or rather, one more step ahead in understanding the authentic spirit of the liturgy and of its celebration; its goal would be to carry on that providential reform of the liturgy that the conciliar Fathers had launched but has not always, in its practical implementation, found a timely and happy fulfillment.

There is no doubt that in this new liturgical renewal it is we priests who are to recover a decisive role. With the help of our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of all priests, may this further development of the reform also be the fruit of our sincere love for the liturgy, in fidelity to the Church and the Holy Father.
[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 March 14, 2010. Hat tip to A.B.]

"Mary" & "Martha": a permissiveness to far

Our undercover correspondent in Boulder, CO, writes:
First read the stats on Canadian marriges.

Then, imagine watching Oprah, who lives unmarried with her man for years, spending an hour mesmerized by the details of the blissfully happy marriage of Ellen to her woman, and realize these smiling faces represent the most loved celebs we know.

Then read NCR, and ask yourself, have we lost the culture war? The gorgeous pic of the Candian church made me think of the history of Hagia Sophia, turned into a mosque.

Let's see... we'll name our two heroines "Mary" and "Martha," and proceed from there. Objectivity too much?

These women are upset because they want doctrinally-comfortable Catholicism. There is no such thing. There are, however, lots of Lesbian-friendly places in Boulder, and elementary-aged girls can fit in very quickly. The boo-hooing is thus more than a bit strained. They SHOULD become Episcopalians. And the parishioners at Sacred Heart may just need a refresher in Catholicism 101 and Basic Morality. "Normal" is not two woman sharing sexual relationship. Good is not lesbian sex. But hey... Times change. People can to, and need to get over it. If you have "evolved" past your own Church's fundamental teachings on sexuality, you have evolved past your church. Choose another. Do not play the pathetic dazed and confused martyr. Shame on NCR for puff-piece advocacy journalism and transparent spin worthy of Bill O'Reilly
[Hat tip to J.M.]

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A cardinal who can preach

He looks and talks like Al Pacino, but preaches like St. John Chrysostom.

Commendations to Houston Baptist University for inviting Daniel Cardinal DiNardo to speak at its convocation on March 10, 2010. Commendations to his Eminence, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, not only for accepting the invitation, but delivering what can only be called a sermon saturated with the Gospel of St. John.

Hunter Baker, a Baptist, in "Listening to a Cardinal . . ." (First Things, Evangel, March 11, 2010), expresses his amazement at the Cardinal's exposition of John's Gospel: "It was relentlessly scriptural and he clearly had mastery of his subject. He spoke comfortably from notes in a way that had the audience on the edge of their seats. There are days when you have to keep after students to leave their phones alone while a speaker is talking, but this was not one of them. Afterwards, many students lined up to speak with him....

I know there is a distance between catholics and protestants and that it is substantial, but listening to this cardinal preach has bolstered my confidence in the eventual unity of the church."

[Hat tip to J.M.]

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Did you know?

The most interesting thing about this clip, I found to be the following:
  • China will soon be the number one English speaking country in the world.
  • The 25% of India's population with the highest IQ's is greater than the total population of the United States -- translation: India has more honor kids than America has kids.
Now that's interesting!

But the rest of the video, with its enthused remarks about the exponential explosion of information technology I found less than impressive.

Take this statement, for example: "It is estimated that a week's worth of The New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century." Does that mean we're smarter than they were then? The key word in that sentence is "information." What is most of that information in a week's worth of The New York Times? Worthless mental clutter. How would a person not be better off with a head full of Boswell's Life of Johnson, or earlier works by Dante, Cervantes, or Shakespeare, not to mention the Bible?

Or, take this enthusiastic statement: "It is estimated that 4 exabytes (4.0x10^19) of unique information will be generated this year." Again, there's that key word, "information." Of what does this information primarily consist? The video references the progressive grown of information technology from the radio to the TV to the computer to the ipod, to cell phones and texting, etc. Granted, teenagers are everywhere texting and phoning one another these days, and the connectivity generated by the technology is an amazing thing. But, again, compare the value of a half-hour cell-phone conversation between two teens and a half-hour spent reading Dante, and perhaps you can begin to see what is being gained and what is being lost here.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Introduction to the Spirit of the Liturgy by Msgr. Guido Marini, Part 5 of 6

Tridentine Community News (March 7, 2010):
On January 6, 2010 a landmark speech was given by Msgr. Guido Marini, the Pontifical Master of Liturgical Ceremonies, at the Year For Priests Clergy Conference in Rome. There is no need to speculate on what Rome believes is suitable liturgy when clear direction such as this is given. Msgr. Marini was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to reform papal liturgies according to our Holy Father’s thinking. We believe Msgr. Marini’s words speak for themselves, and so we are presenting his speech in its entirety.
4. Active Participation.

It was really the saints who have celebrated and lived the liturgical act by participating actively. Holiness, as the result of their lives, is the most beautiful testimony of a participation truthfully active in the liturgy of the Church.

Rightly, then, and by Divine Providence did the Second Vatican Council insist so much on the necessity of promoting an authentic participation on the part of the faithful during the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, at the same time when it reminded the Church of the universal call to holiness. This authoritative direction from the Council has been confirmed and proposed again and again by so many successive documents of the magisterium down to the present day.

Nevertheless, there has not always been a correct understanding of the concept of “active participation”, according to how the Church teaches it and exhorts the faithful to live it. To be sure, there is active participation when, during the course of the liturgical celebration, one fulfills his proper service; there is active participation too when one has a better comprehension of God’s word when it is heard or of the prayers when they are said; there is also active participation when one unites his own voice to that of the others in song....All this, however, would not signify a participation truthfully active if it did not lead to adoration of the Mystery of salvation in Christ Jesus, who for our sake died and is risen. This is because only he who adores the Mystery, welcoming it into his life, demonstrates that he has comprehended what is being celebrated, and so is truly participating in the grace of the liturgical act.

As confirmation and support for what has just been asserted, let us listen once again to the words of a passage by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, from his fundamental study “The Spirit of the Liturgy”: “What does this active participation come down to? What does it mean that we have to do? Unfortunately the word was very quickly misunderstood to mean something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people as possible, as often as possible, should be visibly engaged in action. However, the word ‘part-icipation’ refers to a principal action in which everyone has a ‘part’...By the actio of the liturgy the sources mean the Eucharistic prayer. The real liturgical action, the true liturgical act, is the oratio....This oratio—the Eucharistic Prayer, the “Canon”—is really more than speech; it is actio in the highest sense of the word.” (pp. 171-2) Christ is made present in all of His salvific work, and for this reason the human actio becomes secondary and makes room for the divine actio, to God’s work.

Thus the true action which is carried out in the liturgy is the action of God Himself, His saving work in Christ, in which we participate. This is, among other things, the true novelty of the Christian liturgy with respect to every other act of worship: God Himself acts and accomplishes that which is essential, whilst man is called to open himself to the activity of God, in order to be left transformed. Consequently, the essential aspect of active participation is to overcome the difference between God’s act and our own, that we might become one with Christ. This is why, that I might stress what has been said up to now, it is not possible to participate without adoration. Let us listen to another passage from Sacrosanctum Concilium: “The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ's faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God's Word and be nourished at the table of the Lord's Body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.” (n. 48)

Compared to this, everything else is secondary. I am referring in particular to external actions, granted they be important and necessary, and foreseen above all during the Liturgy of the Word. I mention the external actions because, should they become the essential preoccupation and the liturgy is reduced to a generic act, in that case the authentic spirit of the liturgy has been misunderstood. It follows that an authentic education in the liturgy cannot consist simply in learning and practicing exterior actions, but in an introduction to the essential action, which is God’s own, the Paschal Mystery of Christ, whom we must allow to meet us, to involve us, to transform us. Let not the mere execution of external gestures be confused with the correct involvement of our bodies in the liturgical act. Without taking anything away from the meaning and importance of the external action which accompanies the interior act, the Liturgy demands a lot more from the human body.

It requires, in fact, its total and renewed effort in the daily actions of this life. This is what the Holy Father, Benedict XVI calls “Eucharistic coherence”. Properly speaking, it is the timely and faithful exercise of such a coherence or consistency which is the most authentic expression of participation, even bodily, in the liturgical act, the salvific action of Christ.
[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 March 7, 2010. Hat tip to A.B.]

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Catholicism vs. atheism: the final antithesis?

"[O]ur posterity will tend more and more to a single division into two parts – some relinquishing Christianity entirely, and others returning to the bosom of the Church of Rome."

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835), Bk I, ch. VI.

"Rome and the atheists have gained ... These two shall fight it out -- these two; Protestantism being retained for the base of operations sly by Atheism."

Herman Melville, The Piazza Tales (1876), p. 406.

"I came to the conclusion that there was no medium, in true philosophy, between Atheism and Catholicity, and that a perfectly consistent mind, under those circumstances in which it finds itself here below, must embrace either the one or the other."

The Venerable Cardinal Newman, Apologia, (1883), p. 198.

Fear and loathing in liturgical politics

I went to a Byzantine liturgy recently, and a number of things occurred to me. One was the blissful immunity Eastern-Rite Catholic liturgies enjoy from the acrimonious liturgical politics of other Catholics. The reason? To other Catholics, these Eastern-Rite liturgies are essentially as good as non-existent. They generally don't even appear on the radar of Western-Rite Catholics, who are usually ignorant of them; and where they are not ignorant of them, Western Catholics tend to regard them as something utterly alien -- something practically on the order of what goes on in a Syrian mosque.

When I first became a Catholic nearly twenty years ago, what is now called the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite (the Novus Ordo) is all I knew; and, despite my immediate background in the Episcopalian tradition, I loved it because it was 'Catholic'. I was, of course, a neophyte, flush with the ebullience of conversion, like a young man who has just purchased his first brand-new car. But like the fellow with the new car, I would begin to learn, after driving the vehicle for a few years, what was under the hood.

At my first Catholic Masses, it struck me as 'touching', if not quite to my personal taste, that men and women would cross the aisle to come over and hold hands with me during the Our Father, and then lift my hands together with the forest of upraised clasped hands during the doxology ("For the kingdom and the power and the glory ...") before lowering my hands and giving them a squeeze. It also seemed quaint, if not quite to my taste, that the Mass should be accompanied by a gaggle of guitar-strumming men and women in their fifties playing and singing (rather poorly) tunes that sounded vaguely reminiscent of Joan Baez or Peter, Paul and Mary. It struck me as distinctively 'folksy', if not quite to my taste, that right before Communion, a whole army of unvested pedestrian 'ministers' would mount the altar and surround the priest, as in an over-crowded kitchen, receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord together with him, before descending into the ranks of the congregation to continue the distribution. It also struck me as a bit Lutheran-esque, if not quite to my taste, that people filed up to receive Communion in their hands while standing, rather than kneeling at the rail, as we had in the Episcopal Church.

It took some time before I learned that these sorts of practices (and many others), far from being mandated by the Second Vatican Council, were novelties first introduced following the Council -- some of them in the wake of the Charismatic Renewal, but many others initially as forms of dissent and abuse (such as Communion in the hand and female lectors and altar servers) -- before being mainstreamed and institutionalized as part of the 'liturgical reform'. Some practices, like the use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, are still proscribed, except for rare, truly "exceptional" circumstances (cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum, ##157-158), but the proscriptions are generally ignored.

My point is simple: the post-Vatican II Mass has become a lightning rod of highly polemical liturgical politics, freighted with intense feelings both on the side of those who lament the liturgical innovations as something alien, and those who embrace them as a "breath of fresh air" and dig in their heels against any hint of returning to the ways of the "old church."

To become aware of the politics of liturgy, however, is to find Mass increasingly burdensome. Instead if being a source of consolation, the source and summit of our Faith, Mass can become a source of distraction, so that weaker souls, such as I, find it and harder and harder to experience the presence of Christ in the liturgy. One becomes sensitized to the factions polarizing parish communities and the Church as a whole. One cannot help but notice the politically correct lector neutering the masculine pronouns in the lectionary, or using only the shorter option of the readings, which invariably omits the 'sensitive' texts about wives submitting to husbands, or about fornicators and homosexuals not inheriting the kingdom of God, and so forth. One cannot help noticing when a priest abruptly drops his attempt to re-introduce some Catholic traditions, such as the use of a chalice veil or the choir's performance of Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus during Lent, after a prominent parishioner gives him a piece of his mind for trying to "turn back the clock."

I did not come to the Catholic Church with any liturgical baggage from the pre-Vatican II days. I am chronologically a "Vatican II Catholic." Yet the liturgy at which I have generally assisted over the past three years has been that which our Holy Father calls the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. There are many reasons for this, as anyone who has followed my blog over the past several years knows -- reasons having to do with the invariable objective beauty, richness, dignity, sublime reverence, and palpable Christ-centered and God-honoring expression of this liturgy.

But there is more. One of the reasons I prefer the usus antiquior is for its blessed lack of politicization. Nobody is posturing and trying to make a statement. Nobody is trying to "democratize" the Church or "feminize" it, or to be self-consciously politically correct. The Mass is just what it objectively is -- the Mass; and those who are there are present for one purpose only: to worship.

There is, however, one respect in which the traditional 'Tridentine' Mass is politicized, although it is entirely external to the liturgy itself. What I mean is the visceral hatred that many self-styled "Vatican II Catholics," whether clergy or laity, feel towards it. This was evident in the report by Una Voce in Rome on the second anniversary of Pope's motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which noted that, despite "noticeable improvement" in awareness of the motu proprio throughout the world (in the U.S., the usus antiquior is now being celebrated in 151 of the nation’s 178 dioceses), the situation remains "unchanged" in many places, with "resistance among some bishops to the old rite, and even threats against some priests who wish to celebrate it."

Back to the Byzantine liturgy. The one place where such fear and loathing seems altogether absent is in the Eastern Rite Catholic liturgies. They are not hated. Why? Because they are not even "on the map" of the Roman Rite churches. They co-exist as 'alien' parishes among those of the Roman Rite, and, as such, most Western Catholics (whether clerics or laity) remain utterly indifferent to them.

It was a pleasant experience, then, to assist at a Byzantine liturgy. Among other things, I knew that nobody could possibly hate me for it. Nobody would pigeon-hole me in one category or other in the polarized liturgical politics of the Roman Rite. At most, one's worship might be considered a mild curiosity, like an esoteric penchant for Persian rugs.

"Female altar servers" (Wikipedia) is unusually instructive in terms of illustrating how liturgical changes in recent decades have occurred.