Sunday, March 30, 2014

No, but I do like Latin

Monsignor Daniel Gallagher
Ok, I’ve already blown my cover.  I’m a liberal.  I’ll admit it.  I listen to NPR.  And this past week, listening to NPR’s All Things Considered with Audie Cornish, I heard an American accent tackle—syllable by stammering syllable-- Cuique nostrum necesse est proficere, propriam scilicet vitam emendare. Hi quidem quadraginta dies iuvant vitia vincere.
It was Monsignor Daniel Gallagher, one of the Pope’s seven official Latinists, talking about the challenges of putting the Holy Father’s Twitter-thoughts into Latin—one of about 40 languages in which they tweet. 
Now, I don’t tweet.  I don’t even text.  “Liberal” as I am, I am my own kind. I happen to be a liberal who likes Latin—though not for Mass.  That just doesn’t make any sense.  I like Latin like my sister-in-law likes Crossword puzzles or like my nephew likes Jeopardy.  I like to play with it.  I like it for fun.  I also do like it for its own elegant sounds and even more elegant syntax.  (When I say “sounds”—I follow the Ecclesiastical or Italian pronunciation rather than the German.  It never made sense to me why you pronounce an ancient language once spoken on the Italian peninsula like a constipated Berliner, but hey—that’s academia.  Norman Cantor and I used to have wars of the wills over pronunciation when I was one of his students, though he always praised my Latin and said that it gave me away as an alumnus of Jesuit Education.  Years later I met a Princeton contemporary of Cantor’s and he told me that Cantor couldn’t do his Latin to save his life.  Probably true because I am not really that good of a Latinist myself.  I would have said alumni back there if spell-check hadn’t corrected me.)    In any event, I recently served on a search committee for a Church Music Director and I showed off by asking him if he was familiar with the patrimony of music in the western Church and could we expect occasionally to hear Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus or Caesar Franks’ Panis Angelicus.  I mean, I like this music and a little Latin works in Church, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of prayer.  I mean prayer, not the sentimental slop-shop of pious feelings engendered by an unintelligible libretto combined with a clerical corps de ballet swishing through rubrics that exist for rubric’s sake.  As I have said before, if you like that sort of thing, go see Tosca.  You can leave after Act 1 and you won’t be deluding yourself into thinking that your aesthetic indulgence has anything to do with God.
But back, for a moment, to unintelligible libretto.  God bless Monsignor Gallagher, but I had to listen to him eight times to transcribe a single sentence.  The Latin is perfect—or certainly better than anything I could do.  But if we are going to use this language, we need to pronounce it with flow, not by climbing each syllable like it was a rock-wall. I mean the poor minor prelate was breathless after a minute. 
It reminded me of attending Mass at a little Church in rural Virginia one Monday morning.  I had stayed over at a friend’s the night before and we went off to weekday Mass at his parish the next morning.   About 40 people were there—mostly mantilla-draped soccer-moms with their home-schooled children.  Should have been a clue.  Father came out and began In Nomine Patris… The Mass was in Latin.  It was the Novus Ordo, but in Latin.  And so we listened to Father struggle through his Missal, syllable by breathless syllable, for thirty minutes.  He never took his eyes off the book—how could he: he was at sea in a language he had no idea what it meant.  You could tell from where he gasped for breath or how he clumped words (in his case strings of syllables) together that he had no idea, or at least no clear idea, of what he was saying.  On the way out of Mass I said to him.  “Father, I understood you perfectly, but then I am an ex-Latin teacher.  And I am sure God, who reads the heart, understood you.  But no one else in that Church—including you—had any idea of what you were “praying.”  I wished him luck.  But this is not what the Mass is about. 
Maybe I lived in Rome too long and it is easier for the Italians to pronounce the Latin more naturally.  And I don’t think I could to better than Monsignor Gallagher.  That isn’t my point.  My point is that this is the language for prayer only if it is a language that is natural for you.  Pray from the heart, not from a text.  There was a day when the Papal Latinist—an American—spoke Latin as fluently and naturally as he did his native American English.  Father Reginald Foster, a Discalced Carmelite Friar from Milwaukee, served as a papal Latin scholar from the late 1960’s until health issues forced his return to the United States in 2009.  We should do a few blog entries on Father Reginald as he is one of the great characters of Papal Rome, famous for his quips and bon mots that are anything but reverent towards supercilious churchmen.  Maybe before long I can get around to an entry or two that captures the gift this man has been to the Church and to those of us who refuse to take the Church as seriously as some would like.       


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Time for New Directions --Let the Sheep Lead the Shepherds

Bishop Franz Peter Tebartz van Elst
This past week Pope Francis appointed Bishop Manfred Grothe, auxiliary bishop of Paderborn, to replace Franz Peter Tebartz van Elst as Bishop of Limburg.  You may remember that the Holy Father furloughed Tabartz van Elst several months ago after complaints that the bishop was spending forty-three million dollars on refurbishing the Diocesan Center which includes his residence. Among the luxuries the bishop was installing was a 20,000 dollar bathtub and over 600,000 dollars of artwork.  Tebartz-van-Elst is a Benedict XVI appointee and very much of the sort of Bishop that Benedict favored.  Like Benedict he comes from the Middle Class (despite the “van” in his name: in German, “von” would denote nobility.)  And like Benedict he is given to an exquisite (if somewhat baroque) taste in matters of liturgical vesture, ceremonial, and surroundings.  He has been a strong advocate of Benedict’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificium encouraging the use of the pre-conciliar 1962 liturgical rites.   Unfortunately for Bishop Tebartz van-Elst, there has been a new sheriff in town these past twelve months and he has some very different priorities than his predecessor Pope Benedict. 
Tebartz-van-Elst was a bit of an easy target—not simply because he spent such outrageous funds on the renewal of his diocesan center.  Frankly, given the historic nature of the buildings themselves as well as the plan to open a diocesan museum with many historical artifacts available to visitors, much of the expense could be justified—though probably not the 20,000 dollar bathtub, or the 300,000 dollar private chapel.  The problem is that the bishop has a bit of a track record of falsifying financial reports to hide his extravagances. 
This sort of sense of entitlement has long been closely woven into the clerical state and particularly for prelates.  A friend of mine, Father Dominic Monti, is a Franciscan friar.  Father Dominic always tells the story of how people, in their generosity, give the friars a bottle of Macallan 15 year old Scotch, or they send a tray of Italian pastries from Ferrara’s on Grand Street, or a pair of tickets to a Broadway Show (orchestra seats, of course) because “nothing is too good for the friars.”  And, as Dominic points out, the friars come to believe it and won’t drink their Johnny Walker Red anymore or eat Sara Lee or Entemann’s.  And if this is what happens to the green wood, what about the dry?  It is very easy for clergy, both religious and secular, to become used to the finer things in life, and it isn’t easy to go back to the farm after you have seen Paree.
When it comes to bishops and their life styles, the culture of opulence is even stronger.  There was a day when American Bishops like John England of Charleston or Saint John Neumann of Philadelphia had threadbare clothes and worn out soles.  But that day didn’t last.  The Michael Augustine Corrigans and George Mundeleins and William O’Connell’s felt that if the Church in American was to come into its own, its bishops had to live like the barons of business who were America’s new-blood nobility.  Palatial residences were built and chauffer driven cars were the norm.  Rings and pectoral crosses were heavily jeweled.  The protocols of the Roman palaces were observed with a silver tray to hold the prelate’s saturno placed in the foyer as a sign that His Excellency (, Grace, or Eminence) was at home.  The expectation was that the Bishop would live like the mightiest of his neighbors.  Those expectations die hard.  Young clerical wanna-be’s get the hunger for the finer things from early on.  Read the autobiography of Fulton Sheen.  From the time he was a seminarian he never travelled except first class.  He set his heart on being a bishop and prayed for that call every day of his life from when he was a young man.  And when it came to clothes or housing or graciousness of life, he never compromised.  So why are we surprised when men become bishops and will not settle for anything less than the best.
John Joseph Myers, Archbishop of Newark, dined at a rectory some years back before celebrating confirmation there.  The Pastor had received the instructions that “His Grace” drinks a particular gin along with some tonic and lemon.  He will have a filet mignon along with a baked potato and broccoli for dinner.  At dinner, he was showing the clergy his cuff-links and how they matched his episcopal ring.  All three were set with Roman coins from the time of Jesus.  When a young—and tactless—curate said “that had to put you back a penny or two,” His Grace replied “O, an Archbishop never pays for these things.”  Hmmm.  Trinkets don’t go on trees. 
Well, His Grace had no plans of paying for the 3,000 square foot addition to his vacation home either and now all this is blowing up in his face.  Pope Francis has changed the style of life for the Pope  You might think bishops would follow suit.  Unfortunately, to change the men who have embraced that style is a long slow one-by-one procedure and Francis may well not have the time in his pontificate to do it.  Yes, Bishop Tebartz-van-Elst was relieved of his responsibilities as Bishop of Limburg.  And yes, Myers was given a strong hint that he is free to resign when he was given a coadjutor Archbishop last autumn—though Myers seems to be too thick to take the clue.  But there are dozens, no, scores, of bishops who don’t seem a bit tone deaf to Francis’s new tune.  Culture is slow to change, even when the Gospel is so clear in its call to service rather than aggrandizement.  But then, while decay often begins at the top (and Italian proverb says that “the fish rots from the head down,” reform usually begins at grass roots.  Rather than condemn those prelates who think they are still prelates, perhaps we need to look at ourselves and ask ourselves how we can respond the to the gospel call to be a Church of service to those in need rather than be a Church of pomp and circumstance.  It would be great to have shepherds to lead us, but for the interim, the Gospel is more than enough to point out the path. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Of Popes and Presidents

Looks pretty friendly to me 
So President Obama met with Pope Francis at the Vatican this morning and the Catholic blogosphere has lit up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve with the krazies saying that the President looked “chagrined” and “uncomfortable” as he met the Pope.  The photos tell quite a different story with the President in his usual strong stride and ear-to-ear smile.  And then there are conflicting stories about how the conversation went with the White House stressing points of agreement—immigration reform and checks on economic disparity with the wealthier growing wealthier at the expense of the poor who are growing poorer as we as seeing more and more people slide downhill from the middle class into the poverty range.  Catholics unhappy with Obama are quoting Vatican sources saying that the Pope “chastised” the President over Obamacare and issues of religious freedom.  Whatever, but it ended with everyone smiling and with the President inviting the Holy Father to the White House. 
What actually happened was a very cordial meeting.  These meetings are always cordial.  The Pope played Good Cop to his Bad Cop Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.  That is the way these Vatican meetings go.  The substance meeting is with the Secretary of State.  That is where there is hard talk.  The papal meetings are all about everyone behaving in the sand-box and getting along.  And the fact of the matter is the Pope and President agree on far more than they disagree on.  Even Obamacare.  The problem of the Holy See with Obamacare is not universal health coverage.  Popes have spoken about the “right” to health care being a universal right.  Italians—and Argentines and French and Canadians and English and Dutch and Norwegians and just about everyone else in the developed world—take universal health care for granted.  The Church’s problem is making the Church pay for coverage for procedures and medications that the Church believes to be intrinsically wrong.   There would be no problem with Obamacare if Catholic institutions were not required to provide coverage for contraception for their employees.  I hate to be cynical, but the bishops wouldn’t be complaining about individual Catholic employers having to cover their employees—they just don’t want to do it.  I will give them credit that I believe their reservation isn’t economic, that it is a genuine moral objection.  And I am anxious to see what the Supreme Court does with the issue.  I think the Obama administration was foolish not to back down on this one, at least as far as the Church is concerned.  But to be honest, the fight is no longer about contraception coverage.  It is an opportunity for the secular left to take a couple of swings at the Catholic Church.   The Administration doesn’t want to appear to back down to the Church’s demands and look like it is caving in in front of its base in the various left-wing lobbies that want to use this issue to slam the Church.  And of course our bishops fall right into that trap.  When will they learn to identify the real issues and respond to them rather than to react to the red flags with which they are taunted by those groups who are angry with the Church over women’s issues, gay issues, or just angry because some nun whacked their knuckles with a ruler in the sixth grade back in 1962?
C’mon guys, get on the Francis bandwagon.  Get out there in front for immigrants.  Seize the moral high-ground.  Talk about the millions who are trapped in low-income jobs with the consequent challenges to education, diet, health-care, and human dignity while some people in our society make 462 times the annual salary of their average employee.  I am no fan of the communion-wars but If you want to refuse politicians or rainbow sash folk communion, refuse it to anyone who makes more than five times the average annual salary of his workers.  Tell your communicants that discrimination against people based on their legal status is a sin.  And for heaven’s sake, let the gays march in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade—and come down the cathedral steps and shake their hands.  If Jesus could drink from the bucket of the Samaritan woman, you can be seen chatting with a LGBT person.   And, perhaps most of all, remind us that the Church says that health care is a human right and that if not Obamacare, we still need to do something to make sure that each and every person here—legally or illegally—have access to good health care.  Be a Christian and stop prostituting yourself to the selfish interests of the worst elements in our society.    I guess I wouldn’t make a good pope –I don’t always play nice.  But maybe Secretary of State. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Of Aaron, Melchizedek, David, Christ and the Priesthood

Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek 
by Dieric Bouts the Elder, 1464–67
You might remember a few posts back that I had a correspondent who  wrote

Isn't an offering of bread and wine an appropriate at this point in the mass, preceding as it does the Eucharistic sacrifice, seeing as Jesus is high priest according to the order of Melchizedek? Melchizedek, after all, did offer bread and wine. By this I mean, as Melchizedek was the Old Testament figure of Christ as High Priest, and priests offer sacrifices.

I explained why a secondary sacrifice—one of bread and wine—is theologically repugnant when our faith is centered in the redemptive Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, the only sacrifice by which humankind is redeemed.  But I think we need to explore this idea of the priesthood of Melchizedek as our correspondent seems to think that Jesus shares in the priesthood of Melchizedek and does not understand how that demeans the unique role of Christ as sole redeemer of humankind and demeans his priesthood by declaring it to be a sharing in the priesthood of the ancient King of Salem who blessed Abraham rather than seeing that Christ exercises a priesthood in his own right.
Among the societies of the ancient near East, it was not rare for the King to be the chief cultic figure as well as the civil ruler.  It was not this way with the Jews, but it was common among many of the other societies.  And indeed the idea of the Kingship being joined to the priesthood came into Christian mythology as well.  For example, when we look at the preface for the Solemnity of Christ the King we see the ideas of priesthood and kingship interwoven into a single figure.
I am old enough to remember watching the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.  I don’t remember much of the coronation service—my Dad and I watched it late into the night after the tapes had been flown across the Atlantic for broadcast here.  But my Dad, for some reason, drew my attention to the fact that the Queen laid aside her royal robes before the coronation and put on priestly vestments.  I have since researched this a bit and found that the British monarch puts aside the “robe of state”—the purple mantle with a long train—and puts on a type of alb called the colobium sidonis.  Over this is the supertunica—a type of dalmatic made of gold silk. Over this goes a cope of cloth of gold called the pallium regale.  Finally the sovereign is invested with the armilla, a stole of the same material of cloth of gold and worn over both shoulders in the fashion of a priestly stole.  The tradition of dressing the monarch in quasi-liturgical vestments finds its roots in the Byzantine ritual of the sixth century from where it spread to the Holy Roman Empire in the West and then to the various European monarchies.  Curiously, when the Reformers swept away Eucharistic vestments in England, they left the coronation vestments intact for all those Protestant centuries.
England was not the only monarchy to associate the Crown with priestly dignity.  The Kings of France at their coronation were given to drink from the chalice of the Precious Blood at the coronation Mass.  This was again because a certain priestly character was attributed to the King.  The Tsars of Russia also, at their coronations, received the Eucharist not in the manner of the laity, but as a priest.  Along with the concelebrating bishops, the newly crowned Tsar approached the Holy Table, reverenced the Eucharist sitting thereupon with a deep bow, took the piece of Eucharistic bread in his hands and self-communicated, before kissing the chalice and then drinking the precious blood.  After the Tsar had so received in the priestly fashion, the Metropolitan of Moscow added the remaining fragments of consecrated bread to the chalice from which the laity then received the intincted Eucharist on a gold spoon.
Back to ancient Israel.  King David was anxious to appropriate a cultic role to himself as other Kings in the ancient Near East did.  David had a passion for worship.  He composed many of the psalms that were sung in the temple worship.  He had a major celebration in bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, leading the procession himself in ecstatic dance.  He wanted to build a temple to hold the Ark, but God revealed to him through the prophet Nathan that it would be the task of his successor to build the temple. 
David wanted to appropriate a certain priesthood to the monarchy but how could he when was descended from Judah and God had revealed that the priests were to be taken solely from the descendants of Levi through Aaron.  David composes psalm 110 to justify his position.

Psalm 110 provides a solution.

The Lord says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
Your troops will be willing
on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy splendor,
your young men will come to you
like dew from the morning’s womb.

The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”

The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook along the way,
and so he will lift his head high.

David here is King by God’s anointing—his victories had been won by God so that he, David might rule.  But it is not only the military kingship that is given to David—but also the priesthood.  No, he is not a descendent of Levi and Aaron, but “the Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”  Like Melchizedek David is not of the priestly line, but like Melchizedek he has been found worthy of the priesthood.
David of course, at least as far as we know, did not stand at the altar sacrificing bulls and goats.  He shows no desire to infringe on the rights and duties of the cultic priests, but he does appropriate to himself and his royal office a priestly character.
As the disciples of Jesus began, perhaps on the road to Emmaus, to interpret the scriptures from a new perspective that explained the death and Resurrection of Jesus, they came to see his death as the definitive sacrifice of Atonement by which God and humankind were fully reconciled.  The Cross was able to do what no amount of the blood of bulls and goats, or the bushels of bread and vats of wine, offered in sacrifice could do.  The Cross stands alone as the sacrifice by which all humankind is reconciled to the Father. 
But to offer himself in sacrifice, Christ had to be a priest.  And Jesus, like his ancestor David, was from the lineage of Judah.  How could this be reconciled?  Simply.  Like his Father David, Jesus was priest not by human lineage but by divine anointing.  It had been done so for Melchizedek.  It had been done so for David.  It was done so for Jesus. 
But this does not mean that Jesus, nor David for that matter, shares in Melchizedek’s priesthood.  It simply means that he has a priesthood that is exceptional, outside the normal rules, by Divine Choice. 
Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the Second Person of the Divine Trinity.  It is beneath the dignity of the Incarnation that he draw his priesthood from any human source but rather that he is priest because has been so designated by the Father.  Like Melchizedek he is a priest because God accepts his priesthood though he is not of the Aaronic line.  But it is his own priesthood, not that of Melchizedek, that he exercises in the Sacrifice of Calvary.  “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” does not mean that Christ shares in the priesthood of Melchizedek.  It means simply that like Melchizedek—and like his ancestor David—Christ is designated a priest by God outside the normal lineage. 
Next time perhaps we will speak of the “priests” of the new covenant who minister at the altars from the time of Jesus to today.  Like Christ, their priesthood is not Melchizedek’s.  Neither is it their own.  We will take a look at this in a future posting. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tone Deaf Bishops and Swan Songs of a Dying Newspaper

First, let me say that I am no fan of Governor Chris Christie.  I mean I was impressed by his “Good of New Jersey trumps Republican Party Interests” in the whole Sandy debacle, but at the end of the day I am a Democrat and am interested in what the labor unions, the police and fire, the teachers, and the guy down the street have at interest.  And Christie is a Republican—he doesn’t represent the interests of the proletariat.  I mean I would love to have a beer and a brat with him and am sure I would like him just fine for company, but he won’t get my vote.
I am also no fan of Archbishop John Myers of Newark.  I knew Myers when he was Bishop of Peoria.  I liked him.  I knew him to be a kind man, overly pious to my taste and without a surplus of intelligence, but an approachable enough fellow—for a bishop that is.  Not great social skills but a certain self-conscious awkwardness that I found authentic.   I was surprised when he was translated to Newark.  I remember the (I think it was 1991) Time Magazine interview where he declared “Rome has bigger things in mind for me than Peoria.”  You might as well go ahead and buy your cemetery plot at Peoria Gardens when you say that.  But somehow, he slipped the cords of rural Illinois and sits enthroned in the mighty Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart in downtown Newark NJ.  I should not  be surprised.  Myers was—quite against the current fashion of Pope Francis—a relentless climber who glad-handed his way through the Sacred College and through every dicastery in the Roman Curia.  Andrew Greeley spoofed him as the dumb-as-shi* auxiliary aspiring to the See of Chicago in The Bishop and the Missing L Train. Cardinal Bernardin used to tell anecdotes about a famous faux-pas of Myer’s secretary when he betrayed Myer’s conviction that he would come to Chicago to “clean up Bernardin’s  mess.”  Socially awkward  but not without chutzpah.
Once in Newark Myers has been somewhat of a non-entity.  He has had some health problems, but more seriously is that he was totally outclassed by what I have always seen to be the most remarkable presbyterate on the East Coast. 
The Archdiocese of Newark maintains Seton Hall University and so has always sent a number of its priests on for graduate work—principally in theology but also in secular fields.  This cadre of degreed priests has acted as a leaven as friendships and classmate networks have sparked conversations and debates that have made the Newark clergy—by and large, not universally—a pretty sharp and savvy crowd and which has overflowed into some really marvelous parishes.  Good things are happening there independent of Episcopal leadership and so Episcopal leadership, or let’s say Arch-episcopal leadership, became somewhat irrelevant to the day to day life of the Church.
Myers made some mistakes—as all bishops, even the best—do.  A particularly distressing one was how he handled the case of one Michael Fugee, a priest accused of fondling a young man.  The legal complexities of how the case unfolded in the courts left things somewhat ambiguous and in the end Fugee was not removed from ministry although, in an agreement with the prosecutor, he was prohibited from working with youth.  The supervision was lacking however, Fugee transgressed the legal boundaries placed on him, and the Bergen Record, a local newspaper sounded the tocsin last year and raised quite an anti-Myers sentiment among even the more devout members of the faithful.  Myers, to distance himself from the problem, did not take the blame but threw his Vicar General under the bus, earning the resentment of the clergy and the contempt of the faithful.  It was clear to Rome that the time had come for Myers to go.
Rome does not remove bishops except for heresy or personal gross conduct.  What Rome does with its velvet glove is to appoint a “coadjutor” bishop or, in the case of Newark, Archbishop, who will share the duties of the Diocesan administration.   It is a clear sign for the incumbent to pack his bags and move on—slowly so as to save face—but with due haste. 
Myers has chosen to ignore his coadjutor, Archbishop Bernard Hebda.   The auxiliary bishops have more responsibilities than the coadjutor.  Myers has no intention of packing up his pallium and moving aside.
This isn’t to say that Myers isn’t thinking of retirement.  He is expanding his weekend country retreat from a 4500 square foot bungalow to a 7500 square foot cottage.  When completed—architectural fees paid, furnishings in—it will cost over a million dollars.  This isn’t the Pope Francis style, but Myers has never been one to downplay the dignity of an Archbishop, even the Archbishop of a poverty-ridden city like Newark. 
Well the Bergen Record is beating the tocsin again.  Leftie Catholics of my Woodstock Generation are banding together to resist giving to Catholic Charities—you know the strategy, “we can’t hit Myers directly, but we can hurt the poor and feel good about it.”  Archbishop Hebda, good guy that he is, tried to defend Myers, and now the Record is tar- and-feathering him, saying that he is as tone-deaf to his flock as Myers. 
Well, speaking of tones.  Let’s look at the Records’s tune from another angle.  I am no fan of Myers.  I could care less about his house.  I would just like to see him retire.  I would make a contribution towards a sofa or a chair in his house if he would just go away.  But this isn’t about Myers any more than the Record’s blowing up the Bridgegate issue was about Christie.  It is about the Record.  A local rag that fewer and fewer people are reading.  Let’s face it.  I read the Times and the Washington Post.  There ain’t much out there worth reading beyond them.  We all have alternate sources for our news today.  The print media will survive—the best ones—but the Record, and hundreds of papers like it, are in their death throws.   So going after Myers and Christie can sell some copies and keep the death agony going a week or two longer, but frankly I won’t miss the Record any more than I will miss His Grace, John Joseph Myers, aka Farmer John.  In fact, I will remember that Myers is a good man, though in over his talents, while I will remember the Record as little more than a cheap rag that I read to keep abreast of the death notices. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

No Choice but Pacificism in the Pope Wars

Michael Voris of Church Militant TV is proving to be a tremendous disappointment to many of his followers because he won’t come out and criticize what they consider to be some of the more egregious papal missteps and misstatements of Pope Francis.
There is no doubt that Pope Francis has thrown the Catholic neo-trads into a tizzy with a variety of comments from his “who am I to judge?” regarding gay clergy to his obvious disinterest in restoring the pre-conciliar liturgy to a place at least alongside—if not  exclusive of—the revised rites in the Church’s worship.  For months now, the Blogosphere has been asparkle like Fort McHenry  under British Bombardment with some of the most outrageous attacks imaginable on the Holy Father. 
The neo-traditional site Mundabor’s Blog, for example, printed this comment about the Holy Father:  There is no week now without this disgraceful man reaching for a new deep from the gutter in which he has already put himself.
Life Site News was perhaps less alarmist but still questioning:
What in God's Holy Name are Catholics supposed to think about this pope?????
The Tenth Crusade, a particularly vicious blog of a dyspeptic Bostonian, published this remark:  First of all, I think we're beyond the apprehension stage. We were apprehensive during the eight months of commentary undermining and insulting the 2000 years of the Deposit of Faith and those who love and evangelize It.  Though Pope Francis has issued numerous clarifications, he then went ahead and contradicted said clarifications with an apostolic exhortation which ratified the trajectory of his original statements.  Pope Francis selected a spineless bishop who operates a chancery that persecutes faithful priests and teaches Church laws can or should be ignored and disobeyed at our own will.
Our choleric Bostonian  also carried this remark
As many concerned Catholics have expressed, the silly statements from the Pope are damaging to catechists, parents, grandparents and Catholics who are intimately aware that the mission of the Deposit of Faith is to teach the substance that gives every person right judgment about their actions as they relate to the salvation of their soul.
Rorate Caeli, a blog that usually has more substance than the run of the mill neo-trad diatribes, lost its cool and published this remark: With all due respect he sounds like a typical Latin American Jesuit who has a kind of benign contempt for orthodoxy in favor of an exclusive focus on orthopraxis - - as if the two could ever be separated in Catholic life or thought. I'm surprised because as he has well said previously, the Church is not some glorified NGO. Her doctrine matters. This should be obvious to someone who attains that office.

Michael Voris has refused to cross the line,  however, and join in what he has termed the "Popewars."  This has been a tremendous disappointment to the winged monkeys of neo-Traditionalist Oz who looked to Voris to give the leadership in protecting the faith against a pope gone rogue.  But should we be surprised?
Michael Voris is in a very difficult spot—one that will determine whether his Church Militant TV project will rise or fall.  We need to take a look at Mr. Voris and see beyond the public relations mask to determine his agenda.
Michael Voris is the founder and president of St. Michael’s Media, a corporation that advances a neo-traditionalist agenda among Roman Catholics disaffected with the Church’s direction after Vatican II.  Voris is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame where he majored in journalism.  in 2009 he earned the STB (Sacrae Theologiae Baccalaureus, Bachelor’s in Sacred Theology) granted from the Angelicum University in Rome.  Mr. Voris did not study in Rome, but received the degree from Sacred Heart Major Seminary which is authorized by the Angelicum to grant the degree in its name.  A Bachelor’s in Sacred Theology represents less theological study than the average Religious Education Director in a local parish would have.  It would not qualify a person to pursue a doctoral program, nor would it match the requirements for ordination to the priesthood.  In other words, it is simply a bachelor’s degree in Theology.  “Would you like fries with that order?”
Mr. Voris’ comparatively shallow theological background often manifests itself in his ability to comprehend the more complex issues facing the Church today whether regarding the role of Religious women, Canon 915, the authority of the local Bishop over liturgical matters, or the relationship of the local Church (Diocese) to the Universal Church (The Holy See.) 
While he is no theologian, what Mr. Voris is is an entrepreneur.  And a potentially good one.  Voris saw the lacuna in Amercian Catholic tele-journalism left by the incapacity of Mother Angelica Rizzo, PCPA.  Mother Angelica’s network, EWTN, lost much of its spark when the fiery and street-savvy nun had to retire behind the cloister grille due to a stroke and subsequent problems.  The network struggled on, but without Mother’s voice often yelling “fire” in crowded theatres, lacked the sort of drama that could turn devout novena-saying Catholics into a pitchfork and torch carrying mob yelling for the blood of one or another Bishop or even a Cardinal.   EWTN had become simply another pious voice while the neo-trads saw the Barque of Peter foundering in the waters of modernism.  There was room for a new prophet and Voris determined to fill it.  He didn’t have the resources to start a new television network but, hey—it’s the 21st century and there are new channels of communication and channels that transcend the limited scope of television into the much wider world of the internet.  And so we have Church Militant TV.  It was originally called Real Catholic TV until Archdiocese of Detroit officials made Voris take away the word “Catholic” as he and his network do not in any way represent the Catholic Church but are an independent venture answerable only to Mr. Voris. 
Detroit took some action, but the bishops have found themselves powerless to face Voris’ attacks on their leadership—or lack thereof.  Voris has made the most outrageous (and usually unsubstantiated) charges against a wide range of American prelates, but with a particular focus against Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York.  For awhile he climbed aboard Judie Brown’s revenge-wagon against Catholic Relief Services and spread her lies and half-truths about CRS and about the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  When you go after targets as high as these, it is difficult to find the mechanisms to shut you down without it looking like a unilateral cover-up from on high.  And right now I am not sure that Voris isn’t too powerful for any retaliation this side of the Atlantic—including the Nunciature. 
But should Michael Voris go after Pope Francis—ah, that would be a different kettle of fish.  At that point, Dolan and his fellow victims of Voris’ attacks could easily move to make it clear that Michael Voris does not represent an authentic voice of Catholicism.  And Michael Voris knows that.  He can mumble about how crazies on the left—and on the right—are distorting what the Holy Father says, but he can’t acknowledge any papal misstatements or he will find himself on the wrong side of the good Catholic line.  He is between the proverbial rock and a hard place as his blog advocates are growing increasingly frustrated at his waffling. 
Of course the various bloggers: The Chairman’s Blog: The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales LMS Chairman:(, Mundabor’s Blog  (, 
That the Bones You Have Crushed May Thrill (,  
Creative Minority Report (, and of course my favorite squeaky wheel, the Gaithersburg Cassandra, disingenuous Janet from Restore DC Catholicism ( furious with Voris for his lack of fortitude to rush in where Angels fear to tread.   Of course these various blogosphere critics of Pope Francis have nothing to lose—their following draws from the same crowd of pitchfork and firebrand katholik krazies that migrate through their parallel universe with its alternate reality coordinates, but Michael Voris is trapped between survival and the expectations of his former faithful who had posted episode after episode but who are now angry with him for not joining them in condemning a papacy they are convinced has gone rogue.  


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Of Blankees and Bumwiggle Masses

When I was a child (and thought like a child and talked like a child and reasoned like a child) I had my “blankee.”  It was a wonderfully warm and reassuring large square of tan wool bonded in tan silk.  Unfortunately, I was somewhat like Linus and slow to let go of this childhood security even as it became somewhat disgustingly ragged—to me it was always still that veil of security that let me escape back into a better time and place without the complexity of growing into adulthood. 
I also as a child loved the Mass.  It was probably about the time that my grandmother decided that the “blankee” had to go, that I became an altar boy.  I always wanted to be an altar boy.  I was itchy to get inside the railing—be one of the inner club that could tread the sacred space the other side of the communion rail.  And so I learned a unreasoned chain of nonsense syllables  ad De-um qui lae-ti-fi-cat juv-en-tu-tem me-um and su-scip-i-at Dom-i-nus sac-ri-fi-ci-um de man-i-bus tu-is….    Do you have any idea how hard it is to memorize hundreds of nonsense syllables in a specific sequence?  But I did it.  I got my cassock and cotta and my career as an altar server took off.  I was an altar boy’s altar boy.  By High School I was MC for Solemn Masses and I knew where everyone was supposed to be standing or kneeling and what elaborate range of things had to be on the credence table.  I mean, I was ready to step in if the Pope dropped dead: I could do the part of any sacred minister no matter how complex the liturgy was.  I had an innate gift for understanding the ritual and I loved it.  Admittedly I was a bit of a peacock strutting around, pushing the subdeacon six inches to the left, holding back the cope for the archpriest as he stood next to the celebrant, making sure everyone had their birettas.  In retrospect I was a weird kid. 
But there was another side to my love for this liturgy.  Once a year, every year—the last Sunday of July—our parish invited the local Ukrainian Parish to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in our Church.  Father Peter came and Father Michael and their Deacon. Along came a slew of altar servers wearing red silk tunics (not cassocks and surplices).  There were cantors and a choir.  And there were about two-hundred parishioners from the Ukrainian Church.  And my eyes were open to a whole different style of Worship.  Icons were set up and there were clouds of incense.  But everything was in English.  Everything.  Even the Words of Consecration were in English and out loud.  (This was about 1960.)  and the Church shook from the singing as the parishioners (from the St Mary Theotokos, not from our Saint Martin of Tours)  joined the choir and cantors in singing the entire liturgy.  I had never heard a congregation sing before.  And of course at communion time we received Christ as he came to us under the forms of both bread and wine: the Eucharistic bread soaked in the consecrated wine and delivered into our mouths on a golden spoon.   I liked it.  Above all I liked receiving the Precious Blood. I have always had a devotion to the Precious Blood.  But I loved a liturgy where everyone sang with one heart and once voice.  And a liturgy I could understand. My eyes were open to possibilities. 
It was about that time that slowly changes were introduced into our Roman Mass.  Still in high school, I was among the first to become a “lector” and read the epistle at Mass.  We started singing hymns at Mass.  I must admit that even today I hate “Praise to the Lord.” It too soon became an old chestnut.   Was there any other hymn to sing?  We sang it Mass after Mass.  In 1964 parts of the Mass were first done in English.  It was a bit of a hodge-podge—but I could see where this was going and as much as I had loved my old “blankee” of the Mass, it was time to move forward and I was ready. 
Yes there were things that I wonder what we had been thinking of.  “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” at the offertory.  And Ray Repp.  God, did he write terrible music.  “Here we are, all together…”  Even then I wanted to vomit.  I must admit that I was more fortunate than most, however, as through my college years I had access to Mass (and the Divine Office) with a religious community near the college I attended and the music was usually good and the liturgy prayer-filled.  There were some bizarre things, granted—it was the late 60’s—but overall the evolution from the Old Mass to the New was fairly tranquil.
And then when the revisions of Paul VI came out, I was delighted.  Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV had a flow to them that the Roman Canon lacked—plus a much more explicit epiclesis.  That has always troubled me about the Roman Canon.  Lucien Deiss and Joseph Gelineau were producing some lovely music and we were borrowing some of the better Protestant hymns: good things from Charles Wesley and with tunes by Hayden.    It has been a long journey since then—and an uneven one.  But the “Old Mass,” like my old “blankee” lay in my past.  They had their day and I am grateful for it but I have found new and deeper securities and new and deeper forms of prayer. 
Of course I have never been one to take Liturgy for granted.  Wherever I have lived, I have searched out worshipping communities that make a priority of prayer filled and reverent liturgies.    I have looked for communities that work at full, active, and conscious participation with good music and readings well proclaimed.  I look for a church which is well maintained and where they have a sense of the sacred in organizing their liturgical space.  Above all, I look for communities in which their worship is first and foremost prayer—and communities that understand the intrinsic relationship between prayer, community, and justice.   When travelling, I do my homework to make sure that I will worship with a community that takes God and his Word seriously and worships him with joyful faith.  I don’t attend the “Traditional Mass.”
I did go, once, several years ago to the Tridentine Mass at the Church of Saint Mary, Mother of God, in Washington DC.  The presider was Monsignor Bruce Harbert, at the time executive director of ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy).  It was a low Mass.  Monsignor came out of the sacristy with his two altar servers and proceeded to do his thing at the altar while we in the pews did a variety of our things—pray from our Missals, say the rosary, read novena booklets, or stare into space.  I never quite saw the point of it. Monsignor gave a good sermon (not a homily) though curiously declared that the Mass is not a propitiatory sacrifice.  I was struck by that as I am quite sure that it is and has been so defined, but I think the context in which Monsignor placed it was again to do away with this idea that Christ is slain again and again, Mass after Mass.  In the end I did not feel comfortable receiving Holy Communion.  Whatever we had done was not expressive of my faith—nor, to my understanding, the faith of the Church.  O perhaps on an objective level it was, but our faith is more than the apprehension of objective truths—it also requires the subjective apprehension of those truths.  And this Mass did not do it.  No, there is no way back for me.  Yes, it was the Mass but it was the Peanut Butter and Jelly Mass and I have long been used to a healthy and nutritious banquet of the Word of God and Body and Blood of his Christ.  No way back.
An aside.  Some friends of mine attended a Memorial Requiem Mass in the old rite for a family friend.  Joe and Sally brought their five children to the Mass—and none of them—adults or children had seen the Tridentine Rite before.  They told me it was a splendid occasion with Deacon and sub-Deacon as well as celebrant.  There was a catafalque surrounded by the six wax candles.  The vestments were black.  The cantor sung the Dies Irae—always one of my favorite pieces of music—bone-chilling.  
Two days later, they caught their six-year old daughter playing Mass.  She always liked to do this—not a good sign for her future happiness in a Church that does not ordain women.  But this time, she was not a card-table facing out, but at the credenza in the dining room, facing the wall.  She had arranged the candles and crucifix and found a black cape to wear.  And she kept bending over and wiggling her rear end.   When asked what she was doing, she said she was playing “Bumwiggle Mass.”  “Your know, Mom,” she said, “like at the Mass for Uncle Dave.  The Priest kept wiggling his bum at us.”  What Mary Catherine had noticed at Mass was how Father kept bending over—at the Confiteor and at the altar—and sort of wiggled a bit as he said his prayers.  Ah well, for some the Tridentine Mass might be the most beautiful thing this side of heaven, but beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Grateful to Father Anthony For Recognition

Shortly before I was taken ill last month, I received an email from a friend and colleague in Australia telling me that my Blog: What Sister Never Knew and Father Never Told You, had come to the favorable attention of Father Anthony Ruff, OSB and the blog he coordinates: Pray Tell .  I have never done anything to promote my blog and have watched it grow slowly over the last several years.  I had been a bit startled to suddenly see the number of hits double and even treble in mid-February and wondered for what reason this might account.  I was flattered to have Father Anthony write: Whoever runs the blog about church history What Sister Never Knew and Father Never Told Youknows his stuff. 
I have long admired Anthony Ruff.  Dom Anthony is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville and teaches Liturgy and Liturgical Music there at the University.  He also writes well on monastic spirituality.  Father Anthony had served on the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) in preparing the revised translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal which was introduced two years ago as the “new translation” of the Roman Liturgy in the United States.  At the last moment, Father Anthony withdrew from ICEL and published an open letter explaining why he would not promote the “new translation.”  I'm sure bishops want a speaker who can put the new missal in a positive light, and that would require me to say things I do not believe."
I am not as negative as many towards this new translation.  Overall I find it extremely artificial with its retention of Latin Syntax which simply does not translate well into contemporary English.  On the other hand, there is some lovely phraseology and in particular I am grateful for the return of “From the Rising of the Sun unto its Setting, a Perfect Sacrifice may be offered to the Glory of Your Name” rather than that pedestrian (though still idiomatically accurate) translation: “From East to West etc.”  The better celebrants I know somewhat pick and choose and between the various translations and massage the faux-Ciceronian syntax into something intelligible.  One priest told me that he actually likes the new translation because it has freed him from a slavish dependency on the book and encouraged him to “pray” the prayers from his heart rather than read them by rote.  But I wander.
I am flattered at Father Anthony’s review of my entry on Cranmer and Eucharistic Sacrifice ( and amused at the firestorm it unleashed.  The comments section validated my reasons for talking about the Anglican Liturgy of the First and Second Prayer Books of King Edward VI.  I could not care less about sixteenth-century Anglican liturgies no one uses today.  My point was to draw attention to the flaws regarding an oblatio of bread and wine in some late medieval western liturgies and in the Missal of Pius V.  I am deeply grateful for the 1970 Missal and what is, I believe, a far more clear celebration of our Christian Faith in Christ’s Redemptive Sacrifice as we encounter it Sunday after Sunday (or, for some of us, day after day) in the Eucharistic Banquet.   Father Anthony cited my posting as a reason why “we can’t go back” and that is very much my point.  The 1970 Missal has several flaws, but so does the 1570 Rite (and its 1962 Edition) and there is no doubt that the 1970 Rite is vastly superior as an expression of our historic faith as found in the Scriptures and the Church Fathers. 
That being said, it was later drawn to my attention that this blog, What Sister Never Knew and Father Never Told You  was also given a recognition on  New Catholic Blogs  I don’t seek acknowledgement but am grateful for whatever attention these mentions bring What Sister Never Knew and Father Never Told You.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

More on the Problem of a Double Sacrifice

I had an interesting response to one of my postings and I want to examine it critically as it shows, I believe, some of the misunderstandings of our Catholic faith by people who have been inadequately catechized. 

Isn't an offering of bread and wine an appropriate at this point in the mass, preceding as it does the Eucharistic sacrifice, seeing as Jesus is high priest according to the order of Melchizedek? Melchizedek, after all, did offer bread and wine. By this I mean, as Melchizedek was the Old Testament figure of Christ as High Priest, and priests offer sacrifices. Seeing as the Mass is a recapitulation of the saving action of The Word of God, including some referent to the pre-Incarnation work of God redeeming mankind isn't out of place. Ergo, if it is an offering, even if it suggests that there are in fact two offerings during the mass, essentially, so what? From what little I've read, while not being specifically prepared to respond to your trumped up accusation of "blasphemy", I pretty sure I could gather up support that refutes your charge.   Foundations of the Anglican Church LXVII

“Isn’t an offering of bread and wine appropriate at this point in the mass…”   Offering is an ambiguous word.    In the sense of presenting the bread and wine for the Eucharistic Sacrifice, there is no problem, but I wasn’t writing of an “offering” but rather of a sacrifice (oblatio, the word used in the prayer Suscipe Sancte Pater and where the hostiam being offered is not Christ the Victim but the bread and the wine).  The Church teaches that the Sacrifice of Christ is the one efficacious sacrifice and the only sacrifice of the new covenant.  It is demeaning of the Sacrifice of Calvary in which each Mass participates to consider any other “sacrifice” that might be offered.  The bread and wine—and indeed the financial gifts and other items presented—oil, candles, flowers, etc. may be said to be “offered” but offered as gifts and not as Sacrifice.    This is not a fine line.  We can present things to God’s service.  We may donate a vestment to the Church or sacred vessels to be used at Mass.  We may make a charitable donation for the homeless.  These gifts may be a “sacrifice” in the that they cost us more than we can comfortably give.  But as for Sacrifice: there is one and one only in the new Covenant and it is Christ’s Sacrifice at Calvary in which we participate each time we “proclaim the Lord’s Death until he comes again.” 
Our correspondent continues:
Seeing as the Mass is a recapitulation of the saving action of The Word of God, including some referent to the pre-Incarnation work of God redeeming mankind isn't out of place.
I am not sure where our reader got the idea that the mass is a recapitulation of the saving action of the Word of God, including the pre Incarnation work of God redeeming mankind, but he certainly did not get this from either Scripture or our Catholic Tradition.  There are pious writers who suggest such things for meditation, and within certain limits that is fine, but The Mass is a participation in the Saving action of Christ on Calvary.  It, or rather the Sacrifice of Calvary, may sum up the entire redemptive work of God through both covenants in as that it is the completing and fulfilling deed, but it is Calvary’s Sacrifice and Calvary’s Sacrifice alone which the Mass re-presents.  There is no other work by which we are saved than Christ’s Sacrifice at Calvary.  Our salvation is not the result of a cumulative process of God’s saving acts.  There is one and one only definitive act by which we are saved and that is the cross.   At the Mass we may recall the Passover of the Hebrew people (Especially on Holy Thursday), or the deliverance of Noah and his family, or the victory of the Maccabees, or the sacrifice of bread and wine by Melchizedek,  but we certainly don’t simply place the Cross at the end of this long string of God’s redemptive acts.  The Cross stands alone as the sole and definitive Sacrifice by which we are saved.  Through the entire liturgy—including the Liturgy of the Hours, and especially in the Easter Vigil, we recall this long saga of salvation but the relationship of Christ’s eternal sacrifice to the Mass is unique and uncompromised for it is by Calvary and Calvary alone that humankind is reconciled to the Father.  In other words, the relationship of the Liturgy to the Giving of the Law on Sinai, for example, is not the same as the relationship of the Mass to the Death of the Lord. 
We are not saved through Noah or Melchizedek or even Abraham’s faith.   Cardinal Ratzinger made it abundantly clear in Dominus Iesus that salvation is through Christ and Christ alone.  Pious reflection on the parallels of the Sacrifice of Melchizedek and the Eucharistic banquet are very appropriate and sources of grace—but they must not be stretched to theological distortion. 
The issue behind this discussion is that the oblatio of bread and wine in the Mass of Pius V is seriously problematic from a theological background.  The development of a second sacrifice of bread and wine is inconsistent with the ancient liturgies and indeed with our faith that Christ offers the one eternal redemptive Sacrifice at Calvary.  Each Mass participates in that one eternal Sacrifice but in no way is Christ sacrificed anew and in no way is bread and wine a hostiam (sacrificial victim) at the mass as the word oblatio in the prayer Suscipe Sancte Pater, implies.  I am not saying that this theological slop-shop invalidates the Mass.  By no means.  That Liturgy served as the Church’s primary vehicle for the Church’s latria  for four centuries.  But its elimination from the 1970 Rite corrects a serious flaw in the 1570 Rite and, as Father Anthony Ruff points out, serves as a serious reason why we cannot go back to the earlier Rite. 
Our correspondent goes even more off track about Christ and the priesthood of Melchizedek but let me save that for another time.