Monday, December 28, 2015

Reason 7 Why the New Mass beats our the Old Rite

Fiat Lux: CardinalBurke chooses
to remain in the dark.   

I admit that one of my serious flaws is that I am a bit ADHD.  I never focus.  I am all over the lot with the things I do and the interests I have.  And it gets reflected in this blog as the various series I start take f-o-r-e-v-e-r to finish.  That Anglican history thing has been running for God-alone-knows-how-long now—and we are just at the Oxford Movement.  Of course part of that is that it does take a lot more research than other topics on which I write.  And I can easily get lost in the detail—but again that is a sign of my attention issues.  And the series on why the revised rites of Vatican II are superior to the pre-conciliar rites—a response to the ever-supercilious Professor Peter Kwasniewski of Wyoming Catholic College, that Notre Dame of the western prairies who wrote a remarkably shallow posting arguing the contrary position on Rorate Caeli.  I really need to focus on over the next couple of weeks tie up this series. 
I watched Pope Francis celebrated the Mass During the Night (once known as Midnight Mass) at Saint Peter’s Basilica this last Thursday evening.  (I watched it on television, of course, though I have often been at the Christmas Mass in person, even having a seat in the capella papale due to the generosity of a friend of mine who is a senior prelate in that world the other side of the Roman looking glass but who, “to preserve my (his) sanity wouldn’t be caught dead at one of those curial drag shows.”)   And I went to Christmas morning Mass at my parish.  I can’t believe that anyone would prefer the usus antiquior over the contemporary rite.  Both the papal Mass on television and our parish Mass were spectacular.  They were reverent.  The music was exquisite.  They were intelligible—both in regard to vernacular language (well, ok, the pope said the prayers of the Mass in Latin—which is a vernacular to me so I sometimes don’t notice—but the readings were in the language(s) of the assembly as were the prayers of the faithful.  Oh, yes, that is another difference in the rites—the novus ordo has the prayers of the Church.)  The music in our parish—led by a cantor but also helped out by a six-voice schola cantorum included both the old (traditional Christmas carols in both Latin and English) and the new (including a lovely piece by John Rutter called “Mary’s Lullaby.”)  What the parish Mass created was a sense of bonding among the worshippers that led people not to rush home but to stay around the church and chat over cocoa and Christmas cookies for over an hour.  It was the sort of environment that makes one want to come to Church. 
Well, enough about that.  Let’s get to reason number 7 in our list. 
The Liturgy introduces us to the life of discipleship as we follow the saints through the Church year. 
In the pre-conciliar rites there were plenty of Saints’ days.  In fact we had more saints than days, leading to pile-ups of collects at the beginning of each Mass as prior to the 1962 Missal revision, each collect had to be said in a sort of string of prayers at the beginning of each Mass.  There could be as many as seven collects said on an ordinary day.  I don’t want to say that there is any such thing as too many saints but frankly before Vatican II there were too many saints commemorated in the Liturgy.  Even Lent and Advent were overrun with saints confusing the focus of the liturgy and diverting from the temporal cycle.  The revised calendar trimmed back the number of saints commemorated in the Liturgy, leaving some saints of dubious provenance without a feast day.
Beginning back as far as the pontificate of Pius XII, so beloved of the traditionalists, there were attempts to scale back the Roman Calendar of Saints.  There was also from the time of Pius forward an increase of canonizations of more contemporary saints who were not just names or the subjects of somewhat outlandish hagiography but who could serve as real models for people in today’s world.  More and more saints were named from among the laity (though still not a proportionate number to the laity in the Church.)  The recently canonized Zelie and Louis Martin, a married couple (and parents of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux), are one example of recent saints.  Pier Giorgio Frassati, Gianna Molla, are other examples.  Among the religious you have Saint Marianne Cope, an American (though German-born) Franciscan Sister who worked alongside Father Damien at Molokai.  Pino Puglisi was an Italian priest murdered in 1993 for his opposition to the Mafia.  Jerzy Popieluszko was a Polish priest murdered by the Marxist government of that country for leading the Solidarity resistance.  Katherine Drexel was a wealthy American heiress who devoted her life and her fortune to educating Native American and African-American children. 
There are some interesting people in the “saint pipeline,” my favorite being Dorothy Day, an American social reformer and political radical whom Pope Francis mentioned in his address to Congress.  I am sure that is a boost to her cause.  Dorothy Day is a particularly important model because she had resorted to an abortion in her pre-Catholic youth.   Another person whose cause has not yet been formally introduced but who is being looked at is Monika Helwig, a German-born British citizen who was a leading American theologian.  Helwig had been a religious sister but with the encouragement of her superiors left religious life to pursue a theological education.  (The Constitutions of her religious congregation limited the work of the Sisters to Missionary and Medical work that precluded a theological education).  Helwig continued to live her vows as a lay woman and adopted three children and raised them as a single mother.  She was known not only for her theological prowess (she was chair of the Theology Department at Georgetown University) but for her charitable work and for her involvement in her parish.  As she died quite recently (2005), it is early for a formal process but her papers have all been carefully archived in anticipation and testimonies to her character have been collected. 
The calendar revisions which accompanied the 1970 reform of the Roman Rite retained the classic saints: the Apostles and other New Testament figures, the early Martyrs mentioned in the Roman canon, Martin, Patrick, Benedict as well as outstanding examples of faith or charity such as Thomas More, Vincent de Paul, the Curé of Ars and others.  It also made room for significant new saints such as the Korean Andrew Kim and companions, the Vietnamese Andrew Dung-Lac and companions, the Ugandan Charles Lwanga and companions, Edith Stein, Mary MacKillop and others.  The revised rite and calendar give us plenty of saints, including somewhat contemporary ones, from whose lives to draw the lessons of Christian faithfulness.  At the same time the calendar is structured to keep the focus of Advent and Lent on the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption.  Even such historically important figures as Patrick, Peter Damian, or Saint George get optional memorials, permitting but not requiring their feast to be celebrated. 
Thus there are plenty of saints including contemporaries but not so many that we lose sight of the story of Redemption that unfolds in the Temporal Cycle.  
By the way, one reader recently asked for the dates of the previous entries in this cycle.  The Professor in me is inclined to day: do your own damn research.  It isn't that hard with the label list on the right hand side of this page.  But I just happen to have the dates at hand, so here goes:
10 23 15
10 10 15
8   31  15
7   28  15
7   23  15
7   20  15
7   17  15
7   14  15

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Allah God ???? One and the Same or Different Deities

Do Jews and Christians worship the same God?  This question might seem rather silly to any Christian.  Of course we do.  The God of the “Old Testament” (or better put, the “Hebrew Scriptures”) is the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity.  Well, that of course is the Christian interpretation.  Were I a Jew I would have a few questions. 
In Jewish theology there is no room for a Trinity of Divine Persons.  “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One” (Deut. 6:4), is the key creedal prayer of Judaism and is known from its Hebrew first words as the Schema Yisrael.  It is the center prayer of both the Morning and Evening Prayer in the Synagogue (equivalent to our daily offices of the same name or sometimes called Lauds and Vespers).  It is the prayer Jewish children are taught to say before bed and it is the final prayer on the lips of a devout Jew as she or he surrenders their soul to God.  So while Judaism does speak of the Word of God and of the Breath (Spirit) of God, there is no room to give them a personality unique from the Creator.
And that is another difference.  In the Hebrew Scriptures while God is sometimes referred to as the Father of Israel, a devout Jew never assumes any familiarity with him in the way Jesus did (remember, they wanted to kill him for “making God his Father”) or has taught us to do.  God is King.  Master of the Universe.  Lord.  Creator.  He is not Jesus’s Father or any other individual’s Father.  It is the supreme lèse majesté to address God with such familiarity and in Jesus day it was even worse—it was blasphemy. 
Nor in Judaism is it possible for there to be any sort of Incarnation of the Divine Person assuming a human nature.  The Incarnation is the rabbinic equivalent of a square circle, essentially self-contradictory.  God is God and humans are human.  There is an essential difference between Creator and creature that cannot be breeched. 
In the 80’s, about fifty years after the Death and Resurrection of Christ, the Rabbis inserted into the daily prayers known as the Eighteen Benedictions, a “blessing” (actually a curse) on the minim—the heretics or apostates.  While not explicitly identifying Christians as those placed under this “blessing,” historians agree that they were among the various groups the Rabbis were trying to separate out from the synagogues for their “unorthodox” beliefs. 
Given this history it is surprising that most Rabbis acknowledge that Christians and Jews worship the same God.  It would seem even to me that Christianity had so changed the understanding of God from our roots in Judaism that we had in effect “morphed” the God of Israel into a very different Deity.  I suspect that some of the ultra Orthodox (and I mean ultra as in the Hasidim) might think this but they keep themselves so isolated even from other Jews that if they do it remains unspoken in inter-faith circles.  Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jews express no problem that despite the doctrinal issues relating to Jesus we do in fact worship the same God.
Now to the point: I am not writing about Jews and Christians at all but rather Christians and Muslims.  It is much more clear that Jews and Muslims worship the same God and if they do then Christians and Muslims obviously worship the same God. 
The name “Allah” is the Arabic for “The God” (literaly al ilah) to distinguish Allah from the lesser deities worshiped among the Arab people before Mohamed.  Allah is not unique to Islam but was used to speak of God by Arab Christians both before and after the rise of Islam.  Christians, including Catholics, who speak Arabic, even today refer to God as “Allah.” 
The Name “Allah” finds its cognates in other languages spoken by the ancient peoples of the Bible.  When speaking Aramaic, his native language, Jesus would refer to God as Elah—a Name very closely related to Allah.  The Canaanite Name for God, El, was borrowed by several of the authors of the Old Testament.  In Hebrew God is called Elohim.  These Names are all closely related to the Arabic Name of God, Allah. 
When Mohamed devised his new religion of Islam he rooted it Judaism and Christianity.  As a young man driving camel caravans for his uncle, a merchant, across Arabia to the markets along the Mediterranean coast in what is today Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon, he was familiar with both religions.  Moreover, it seems that for several months he lived with a Christian monk who taught him to read and write.  This monk apparently was not Orthodox but belonged to the Nestorian tradition.  The Nestorians believed that in Jesus God did not truly become human but sort of wore a human body to mask his Divinity.  It gave the young Mohammed a skewed understanding of Christianity and its beliefs, but he always maintained—and wrote into the Quran—a deep respect for Christian monks and priests. 
His exposure to Judaism and Christianity led him to the idea that God had first revealed himself to Abraham but over the centuries the Jews had changed the revelation and strayed from the Truth. So God sent Jesus to be his prophet and set people right but again, over the centuries Christians moved away from the Truth, “exaggerating” Christ into a Divine Person.  In the end Mohammed felt that he was the final prophet who came once and for all with a Revelation that would not be corrupted. 
As a consequence of his exposure to Christianity Jesus and Mary play a significant role in the Quran.  The Quran teaches that Mary was and remained a virgin through the conception and birth of Jesus.  Muslims have a great respect for the Virgin Mary.  I remember being in a procession in honor of Our Lady in Trapani in Sicily about 20 years ago.  While the participants were all Catholics, it was mainly Muslims who lined the streets respectfully to watch Our Lady’s statue being carried by. 
There are those who want to tell us that the “Muslim god” is a false god, an idol.  But in fact they know neither their history nor their theology.  Yes there is a significant difference in how we understand God but there is an equivalent difference in how we and Jews understand God.  Whatever divides us one from another is the work of the Evil One and the sort of bias that slams the door of authentic commonality between Christianity and Islam is from Satan and not from God.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sound and Light, Sound and Fury

Sound and Light Show at the Vatican
in support of Enviornmentalism

Son et lumière shows with stories and their images being projected on historic buildings have been increasingly popular in Europe over the last forty years.  The Palace of Versailles, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, the Hôtel de Ville in Brussels, the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, the Parthenon in Athens, the Great Pyramid in Giza have all served as the screen for the sound and light displays.  Last week, on December 8th—the feast of the Immaculate Conception—Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican joined the list as Fiat Lux, Illuminating our Common Home, an hour-long sound and light display highlighting the challenges of Climate Change was projected on Carlo Maderno’s 17th century façade.  Images of seals, clownfish, dolphins, lions, monkeys, coral reefs, exotic birds and countless people from around the world were projected on the Basilica. 
It is no secret that Pope Francis is one of the world’s leading voices calling for environmental reforms to protect our planet from the effects of human-generated threats to the atmosphere, seas, rivers and land.  The Pope wrote his first encyclical, Laudato Si, outlining a Christian response to environmental threats.  The Encyclical set off a vehement reaction from the Katholik Krazies and last week’s son et lumière raised the pitch of hysteria.   It is becoming clear that Pope Francis is proving an irritant to a significant party within the Church that becoming more and more rebellious to his authority.  Even such once reputable sites as Rorate Caeli and Father Z’s What Does the Prayer Really Say?  are advocating open rebellion against the current Vicar of Christ. 
This is not a problem of Francis’ making but rather due to the poor catechesis given Catholics in the years before the Council when so many of our schools and catechisms were given to a monophystism  that rejected the true humanity of Christ, giving us instead a Deity who ruled over creation but never truly entered into it.  This was reflected in our liturgy which, at the time, was totally separated from the realities of everyday life.  I was pondering this point this morning as I watched people gather for Mass and quietly greet one another as they took their places in Church.  We had always been taught that our attention should be directed solely towards the Christ present in the tabernacle.  There was no appreciation of Christ present in his mystical Body, the Church.  Everything was over-spiritualized and other-worldly.  This world did not matter at all.  The implications of the Incarnation on our daily lives were totally overlooked.
Those who oppose Pope Francis on issues of climate change do so not for theological reasons but for political-economic ones.  They uncritically buy into the economic systems that are irresponsibly exploiting our natural resources and destroying the environment in favor of short-term gain over long-term human good.  But they justify this by their gnostic separation of the material and spiritual worlds.  The Incarnation teaches us that this created world has been sanctified by God becoming part of it in Christ Jesus.  The orthodox Christian knows that we cannot divide the sacred from the profane—that creation is now shot-through with the God who is its origin and its destiny.  Perhaps Gerard Manley Hopkins put it best  

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell:
the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — 

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

oh, but I forgot, Hopkins was a Jesuit.  We can hardly look to him for orthodox Catholicism!