Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween

No, it's not who you
think; it's me in my
Halloween costume

I can’t help but notice this year that almost all the houses in my neighborhood are festooned for Halloween.  Orange lights and tangles of spider webs, half buried in the lawn skeletons, witches on brooms suspended from porches, hearses parked in the drives—it is absolutely ghoulish here in suburbia.  And yet when Christmas and Chanukah come rolling round in December, fewer and fewer houses are illuminated these days.  O, there are some to be sure.  And you can see the appropriate tree or menorah in the windows—but the all-out-over-the-top Chevy Chase Christmas Vacation sort of exuberance is no longer quite the thing. 
Halloween, being so overtly secular, might be becoming more and more popular as easier to explain to the li’l ones than Chanukah and Christmas where it is particularly awkward to talk about without using the G Word.  Christmas has been pretty much secularized, along with having been commercialized, but still, some overly observant kid is likely to ask about the occasional angel or even the baby in the straw.  It is just too tricky a path to navigate, though, if you want to raise your kids free of all that guilt and inhibitions that religion brings.  But Halloween—hey knock yourself out.  Be a witch or a pirate or even a Kardashian.  Overdose on candy and get your sugar high cause when you grow up it is a night for excess too.  Adult themed Halloween parties are sooooo coooool!  You’ll never remember what you were drinking and you never know with whom you might wake up the next morning.  But that is the 21st century way of living life meaninglessly.
Don’t get me wrong.  I like Halloween.  I loved it as a kid—what kid doesn’t?  We all need some fantasy, a chance to be someone else—to escape into some wanna-be that lurks deep in our psyche.  There was an interesting article in the New York Times this morning on Halloween costumes and political correctness.   Apparently dressing up like Caitlyn Jenner, Pancho Villa, a geisha, or Pocahontas crosses a line.  I guess going out as the Reverend Al Sharpton, a knife-weilding ISIS terrorist, or Penny from Big Bang Theory would similarly be offensive.  For that matter I suppose Dr. Ben Carson, Hillary and the Donald are off limits (the first because of race, the second because of gender, the third because he’s just a jerk), though Ted Cruz might be acceptable.  What a bunch of hooey.  This is the one night where it is not correct to be politically correct.  This is our Feast of Fools where the sacred cows are meant to be mocked. 
Of course in the glorious days of the Church before the Reformation, the Feast of Fools was usually January 1.  People would dress like the bishop or the pope or even the village priest and give mock blessings and conduct mock rituals, even parodies of the Mass.  This was in the days before Bill Donahue and the Catholic League or Father Z or Rorate Caeli or other drab and humorless parodies of plaster saints would see sacrilege wherever idolatry was under siege.  But Halloween has become that day of de-sacralizing the sacred cows and the target has expanded far beyond the Church.  Popes and bishops should be relieved they are no longer the target, though lots of gay men like dressing up like the nuns of old.  Whoops, I guess that differentiating gay nun wanna-bes from the general population of nun wanna-bes isn’t politically correct either.  But then I am just not into political correctness.  It is too limiting of our ability to speak up and point out the foibles of the world around us. 
The name “Halloween” has Christian origins—and not very old ones at that.  The term first appears in present form only in the mid-eighteenth century.  It is a contraction of the more formal—and older—All Hallows Even.  Even is an antique form of our word “eve,” signifying evening, or more precisely “the evening before” such as Christmas Eve.  All Hallows refers to the feast of November 1, All Saints’ Day.  Hallows is another word for saints and still is commonly used in Ireland and Britain. “All Hallows” being a common term for “All Saints” in the dedication of Churches, schools, and other religious institutions. (A famous seminary of that name in Dublin was known as “All Shallows “ as a way of testifying to its less rigorous curriculum than the national seminary at Maynooth.)  The term “All Hallows Even” for October 31 can be traced back to the sixteenth century.
The weirdness of the day is pre-Christian.  Though many different cultures celebrated festivals at this time when summer was clearly over and the winter was beginning to make its presence felt, and some—such as pre-Columbian Mexico even associated these festivals with bridging the gap between the living and the dead—the primary influence in the development of Halloween was the Celtic (Irish and Scots) festival of Samhain.  This festival had a deeply mystical theme in which the veil separating the world of the living from the world of spirits was particularly thin at this time, allowing the dead as well as fairies, sprites, and other jinn to walk the earth.  If you have ever been to Ireland (real Ireland, not Dublin and its suburbs—you had might as well be in Hackensack as Dublin), especially in the west, once the sun goes down and especially in the winter months, it is very easy to believe in leprechauns and fairies.  Strange lights appear and travel over the bogs and sudden blasts of frigid air startle you, make you loose the thread of conversation, and are gone again.  Wispy tunes emerge from the distance and are gone again with the wind.  Of course, a pint or two of Guinness and a few belts of Irish Whiskey can enhance the experience but who is to argue with tradition? 
So for those super-Christians that think Halloween is of demonic origin or those whose sensitivity binds them in the chains of political correctness, just learn some history about what this day is all about and loosen up a bit.  And for the rest of us, let’s have some fun—responsible fun, but fun.  I think I’ll dress up as Cardinal Burke if I can get to Victoria’s Secret in time to find a suitable negligée to serve as my rochet   
By the way, I hope to do one or two more posts and then will take a leave for about three weeks while I tend to some personal matters.  more later.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Foundations of the Anglican Church CXXVII

Edward Bouverie Pusey 

Newman’s 1845 conversion to Catholicism shook the Anglican world and while both before and even more after Newman’s reception into the Catholic Church there was a veritable wave of defections from the Church of England with prominent Anglicans, clergy and lay alike, not all leaders of the Oxford Movement “swimming the Tiber.” 
The most prominent of those who stayed rooted in his Anglican convictions was John Keble whose sermon “National Apostasy” to open the Oxford Assizes of 1833 triggered the Tractarian Movement.  Keble was the son of an Anglican clergyman, also named John Keble.  The senior Keble was vicar of Coln Saint Alwyns.  The younger Keble was born in 1792 and as a young man attended Corpus Christi College Oxford.  He took Holy Orders in 1815 and became a fellow of Oriel College Oxford.  He served a number of years as University Examiner before leaving academia and devoting himself to pastoral work.  Before giving up Academia for parish ministry, however, he had written his Magnum Opus, The Christian Year, a collection of poems for every Sunday and the major feasts of the Church of England.  It captured the romanticism of the early 19th century and even today a number of the poems remain popular in hymn form.  The Christian Year won for Keble a professorship of Poetry at Oxford which he held for about thirteen years before taking up parish ministry.  He continued to write both poetry and prose through the remainder of his life.  During the publication of the Tracts For The Times, Keble wrote Adherence To The Apostolical Succession The Safest Course, On Alterations In The Prayer Book, The Sunday Lessons, The Principle of Selection, Richard Nelson III, Baptism, Sermons For Saints’ Days and Holidays No. 1 Saint Matthias, Sermons for Saints’ Days and Holidays, No. 2 The Annunciation Of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Sermons for Saints’ Days and Holidays No. 3 Saint Mark’s Day, Sermons for Saints’ Days and Holidays No. 4 Saints Philip and James, and On the Mysticism Attributed To The Fathers Of The Church.  His younger brother, Thomas Keble, was also a prolific contributor to the Tracts.  John Keble had tremendous influence on sparking a renewed interest among Anglicans in their patristic heritage and he knew how to capitalize on the Romantic Movement of the 19th century to awaken an appreciation for so much of what had been jettisoned from Anglicanism both during the Puritan years and the Latitudinarian captivity.  His interest in the feasts of the Church and his ability to bring them to popular devotional attention through his poetry was particularly helpful in awakening a liturgical piety in the Church of England. 
The other Anglican Divine who remained faithful to the Church of England and took leadership in the Oxford Movement when so many others were becoming Roman Catholics was Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882).  Pusey was a member of the junior branch of the Viscounts Folkestone but was himself a commoner.  He studied at Eton, matriculated at Christchurch Oxford and was elected to a fellowship at Oriel (as were Keble and Newman).  He studied Oriental Languages at Göttingen and when he returned to England was named Regius Professor of Hebrew at Christchurch to which position was also attached a canonry at Christchurch Cathedral.  His time at Göttingen exposed him to the German pietists and insured his alienation from the rationalist trends in theological reflection espoused by the Latitudinarians.  He was somewhat of a latecomer to the Tractarians but came to publish the following Tracts: Thoughts on the Benefits of the System of Fasting Enjoined by Our Church, Supplement to Tract XVIII Thoughts on the Benefits of the System of Fasting Prescribed by Our Church, Scriptural Views of Holy Baptism, Scriptural Views of Holy Baptism (continued), Scriptural Views of Holy Baptism (concluded), An Ernest Remonstrance to the Author of ‘The Pope’s Letter,’  and Catena Patrum. No. IV. Testimony of Writers in the later English Church to the doctrine of the Eucharistic Sacrifice with an historical account of the changes in the Liturgy as to the expression of that doctrine.  In addition he gave a number of remarkable sermons that challenged the Latitudinarian mediocrity into which the Church of England had fallen as well as renouncing the Calvinist doctrines of the sixteenth century.  His 1843 sermon “The Holy Eucharist, A Comfort to the Penitent” was so marked a departure from the Calvinist approach to the Sacrament that it led to having his license to preach suspended for two years.  He preached two sermons entitled “The Entire Absolution of the Penitent” in 1846 calling for a revival of sacramental confession and absolution in the Church of England. In 1853 he preached a sermon “The Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist” which led to drastic changes in liturgical practice as the developing High Church party summoned the courage to abandon the bland trappings of Calvinist worship and restore pre-Reformation practices in the Liturgy.  He also wrote a number of books on the Eucharist as well as on the Hebrew Scriptures.  His Eirenicon was an attempt to find sufficient common ground for reunion of the Church of England with the Catholic Communion.  He didn’t succeed in winning either side to his argument. 
Ironically while his works on the Eucharist led to a ritualistic revival in the Church of England, Pusey himself remained quite Protestant in his own liturgical style and was not in favor of wholesale copy of Catholic or Pre-Reformation ritual.  The liturgical exuberance—and even excesses—for which the High Church party would become (in)famous were for the disciples of Pusey and Keble more than for the masters themselves but they did provide the theological framework for a “Catholic Revival.”

Monday, October 26, 2015

Of Synods and Shepherds

Well, the two-year Synod on the Family closed yesterday with somewhat mixed results that should give us a hint that Pope Francis, his agenda more or less thwarted by the conservative block of bishops in the Synod, will take matters into his own hands.  I think it also gives a hint that all things being equal—and they never really are—Francis may not step down from the papacy as early as he has previously hinted. 
The final Synod document isn’t bad, it just isn’t good.  To get what he needed to justify taking the Church in some new directions, the document had to be more ambiguous than Francis and the liberal block would have liked.  For example, there could be no explicit mention of giving Holy Communion to those who had been divorced and remarried without a Church annulment.  Even with the vague ambiguities of the final document, some of the more controversial passages barely received the required two-thirds majority needed.  The two-thirds rule, while necessary for a measure of consensus, is a huge part of the problem.  A simple majority of bishops would probably have gone further along with the Holy Father’s desire to create a more open and welcoming Church. 
Francis could let the document stand as it is or he can use it as a basis for a document—perhaps an encyclical—he will write and give the more concrete norms on how the Synod statements should be interpreted.  Francis is probably going to go that route.  He also will probably delegate to the various Episcopal Conferences the task of providing the concrete guidelines for better pastoral care of those Catholics in irregular unions.  In such a case I would not expect the American bishops to be as open to changing pastoral practice as might be the Canadian or German Bishops, or even the English bishops.  The American hierarchy is still infested with John Paul and Benedict appointees who are strong on canon law but short on theology and pastoral experience.  And this is why I think Francis may hold on to the See of Peter for a few more years than the next two or three of which he has spoken.   He has made inroads in changing the College of Cardinal Electors but he still needs at least two more “classes” of his appointees to secure a succession that will continue his direction.  Even more important, he needs to fill key Sees with bishops who understand and are onboard with his agenda.  There are many archbishops and bishops who will, given normal lifespans, outlast Francis.  They days are ticking down for Myers of Newark who recently drew his line in the stand that there will be no change in policy as long as his caboose is parked on his marble throne in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, but Myers goes off to the Jacuzzi in his retirement home next summer and his successor is someone who at least cultivates the appearances of being in the Francis style.  Lori of Baltimore has ten more years as does Aquila of Denver and Gomez of Los Angeles.  Chaput of Philadelphia, on the other hand, has only four more years to go—Francis might be able to change that See if he holds on just a little longer than he had been thinking about.  Cordileone—a problematic prelate by any account—has sixteen more years before mandatory retirement.  Francis could move him to a desk job in Rome where he could be neutralized and he certainly would not be missed by the City on the Bay, but he will almost certainly be at Francis’ funeral and, along with his mentor Cardinal Raymond Burke, do a happy dance on Francis’ grave.  I suspect that Francis will have a “come to Jesus” talk with Dolan and DiNardo after the behavior at the Synod—behavior which frankly surprised me.  Most of the more obstinate bishops—Morlino, Slattery, Paprocki, Sheridan, Lennon, Olmstead, Dewane, O’Connell etc.—are non-entities beyond their respective Sees—or even within them—but collectively can do great damage as a sort of Episcopal Tea Party within the Conference.   Restructuring the American hierarchy in the Francis model would be an immense task and hard to do in even a ten-year period. 
I would like to look at two paragraphs from the homily at the Mass with which Pope Francis closed the Synod:
There are, however, some temptations for those who follow Jesus. Today’s Gospel shows at least two of them. None of the disciples stopped, as Jesus did. They continued to walk, going on as if nothing were happening. If Bartimaeus was blind, they were deaf: his problem was not their problem. This can be a danger for us: in the face of constant problems, it is better to move on, instead of letting ourselves be bothered. In this way, just like the disciples, we are with Jesus but we do not think like him. We are in his group, but our hearts are not open. We lose wonder, gratitude and enthusiasm, and risk becoming habitually unmoved by grace. We are able to speak about him and work for him, but we live far from his heart, which is reaching out to those who are wounded. This is the temptation: a “spirituality of illusion”: we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead, we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts.
There is a second temptation, that of falling into a “scheduled faith”. We are able to walk with the People of God, but we already have our schedule for the journey, where everything is listed: we know where to go and how long it will take; everyone must respect our rhythm and every problem is a bother. We run the risk of becoming the “many” of the Gospel who lose patience and rebuke Bartimaeus. Just a short time before, they scolded the children (cf. 10:13), and now the blind beggar: whoever bothers us or is not of our stature is excluded. Jesus, on the other hand, wants to include, above all those kept on the fringes who are crying out to him. They, like Bartimaeus, have faith, because awareness of the need for salvation is the best way of encountering Jesus.
I think that Pope Francis was giving a less than subtle criticism of those bishops who are resisting a change in pastoral approach, pointing out that they are deaf to the people whom they are ordained to serve.  They live in an isolation in which the concrete pain and alienation of so many has become invisible to them.  They see the rules and laws and regulations but they do not see with compassion the realities of the lives of ordinary people who are struggling to be faithful to Jesus and his Gospel in a very complex world.  There are none so blind as those who will not see; none so deaf as those who will not hear.  To effectively change the Church and put it back on track with its mission to bring people to Christ, we need new leadership.  Let’s pray that Pope Francis will be able to give us bishops who have that Shepherd’s Heart that is on fire for going and searching out those who are lost rather than gathering as much wool as possible from the docile sheep in the pen.  

Friday, October 23, 2015

Another Posting On Why The Revised Rites of Vatican II Are Better Than The Unreformed Pre-Conciliar Rites

Reason 6 of why the current liturgical rites are superior to the pre-Conciliar rites is that the liturgy walks us through the cycle of Christ’s birth, life, teaching, suffering, death, resurrection and sending the Holy Spirit. 
Of course the pre-Conciliar rites also took us through the anticipation of Christ’s Incarnation (Advent), The Mystery of his Incarnation (Christmas) his teaching (Sundays after Epiphany and Sundays after Pentecost) and the Paschal Mystery of his Suffering, Death and Resurrection (Septuagesima, Lent, Easter and Pentecost), but it was a very different experience.  In the first place the 1970 revision uses a three-year cycle of readings that literally triples the amount of Gospel and Scripture readings to which we are exposed in the Sunday Liturgy.  (The Daily Lectionary is a two-year cycle which therefore increases the scriptures used at daily Mass by 50% as the Gospels are the same in both years.)  The expanded Lectionary not only exposes us to more of the Word of God, but gives us the same narratives of the life and teaching of Jesus from the perspectives of the different Evangelists. 
In addition to the expanded Lectionary and the more extended use of Scripture readings, the faithful actually hear the readings.  While the custom before the Council was generally that the Gospel be read a second time in the vernacular on Sundays, at daily Mass the readings were simply read sotto voce by the priest at the altar and in Latin, meaning that only if the faithful had a daily missal with them could they access the readings.  And it was not unknown in the “old Mass” that not even the Gospel was read to the people in their own language.  It only mattered that the priest “say the Mass” as he “said it for us” and we were onlookers to the sacred action. We had neither to hear nor to comprehend but only to be present.   
Another example of how little we were exposed to the scriptures before the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council is that it was the common practice that whenever possible the Requiem Mass be said for the person for whom the stipend was being offered.  The readings for the Requiem Mass did not change from day to day but were always the exact same reading.  It was entirely possible that from a Monday through a Saturday, the same Epistle and Gospel were read at Mass each day.
When there was a feast that pre-empted the opportunity to use the Requiem Mass, the readings were almost always from the propers of that feast, or more exactly the “commons” of the particular genre to which the saint of the day belonged.  So if the feast were that of a Virgin Martyr such as Saint Cecilia, the exact same readings were used for several dozen other feasts through the year—Saints Ursula, Barbara, Lucy, Perpetua, Agatha, etc.  Same for Bishop Confessors: Martin, Patrick, Ambrose, Gregory, Leo.   Same for Martyrs: George, Vincent, Justin, Ignatius, etc.  Greater Apostles (Peter, Paul, John) might have their particular readings, or at least a particular Gospel, but the majority of them—Jude, Simon, Matthias, Thomas, etc tended to get lumped together with the same readings, or at least for their Epistles.  And of course Saturdays were the Votive Mass of Our Lady with the same readings each week.  All in all, it was a tiny portion of the New Testament that was read at Mass and little, if any, of the Old. 
Lent was extended with the addition of Septuagesima—a period of three weeks affixed to the First Sunday of Lent.  This took three Sundays where the Vatican II Liturgy focuses on the teaching and miracles of Jesus and added them to the focus on his Passion and Death.  This deemphasizes discipleship in favor of our being passive onlookers to the Passion and Death of the Lord. 
All in all the pre-Conciliar Rites minimized the importance of the Scriptures and restricted liturgical access to them in favor of the priest offering the Sacrifice on our behalf but without our active participation.  It fit the needs of the sixteenth century where the bulk of Catholics were illiterate and uncatechized but it also kept the faithful from growing in their faith and committing themselves to active discipleship.