A dream, a perspective

I had a wonderful, vivid dream last night. I was in the middle of the most beautiful, never-ending liturgy, with people of every race and time and place. I was dressed in a simple alb and deacon’s stole, and my only concern for eternity was keeping the charcoal burning in a thurible. I was so content and happy, and even felt a little sad this morning as I recalled it and desired to be back there.

I was also supposed to fly to Dallas for an all-day meeting with my manager today, but my 7:30 flight was delayed to 9:30, then 11:30, then 1:30. Even with an earlier rebooking opportunity, we decided I’d just stay home and we’d meet virtually instead. It’ll be as productive but just not the same experience.

Much in this world is imperfect. We long for the perfect of the world to come.

Christ’s Body: Change From the Outside

The Bread of Life & the Church's present scandal

I woke this morning to the sounds of the crickets finishing their evening chorus to the rising sun, and I laid in bed for a few minutes starting my conversation with God for the day. As I did so, the words of the Act of Contrition started to flow through my mind.

“And I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishment.”

I couldn’t help but continue to think about all of my own sins of my life and how I was truly sorry for them and wanted God’s grace to continue to get better, but also how tied to those sins was a just punishment. I prayed that someday, someone would have the sense to continue to pray for my soul after death as, hopefully, I underwent my own purification in Purgatory before going to be with God for eternity in Heaven.

Then, of course, my mind couldn’t help but turn to the current scandal facing the Church because of so many men in power who also sinned, and who also didn’t do the right thing when the situation called for it. The ongoing, renewed, and even bigger than imagined scandal of abuse of minors, covering it up, fostering and allowing an environment of sexual immorality – all of it is so terrible and heinous and unimaginable.  I detest all these sins by members of our own body, members of Christ’s body.

The Homeless Man & The Body of Christ

Homeless girl sleeping on a bench in the night mysterious atmosphere

The other morning, I took our dog on our usual walk down the street and around the park. While in the park, we came across an older lady from our church who I’ve seen around town from time to time, collecting and bagging up aluminum cans and plastic bottles. She was at it again that morning in the park, pulling a couple of bottles out of one of the trash cans and putting them into the bag she was carrying.

From time to time in the past, when I had seen her doing this, I had briefly wondered why she did it – it never seemed like she needed to try to recycle them for the money, but I didn’t know, and I didn’t ask. The other morning when I saw her doing it again, though, it made me wonder…

We do not pray in vain

I found great beauty and comfort in this quote this morning:

“Take note of this, for it is a certain truth: we do not pray in vain for those who are lost, even if they are our enemies. Yes, we do not pray in vain – even though everything seems to be hopeless. If we are truly concerned for their salvation and bring them before the Savior, he will bring them under his special care, so that – perhaps before we are even aware of it – miracles can happen, even among those whom we had already given up for lost.”

– Johann Christoph Blumhardt, Vom Glauben bis ans Ende

Personal Reflection on Chapter 1 of ‘Ministries: A Relational Approach’

Reflection Paper: Church History II

I found Edward Hahnenberg’s analysis of the contrast and balance between clergy and laity in Chapter 1 of his Ministries: A Relational Approach to be fascinating and intriguing in the context of the re-introduction of the permanent diaconate in the wake of Vatican II.  Hahnenberg outlines the tension between clergy and laity and the start of a “theology of the laity” coming out of Vatican II, and explored new models that evolved out of the council, like Yves Congar’s concept of “ministries of service / community.”  As a deacon aspirant, it was interesting to consider yet again how the deacon sits “between” the clergy and the laity, or in a spot that others have referred to as a “seam” or a “bridge.”  I find myself reflecting again on the opportunity for the deacon, formally part of the clergy and sacramentally ordained but also living a life within and among the laity, to truly bridge this perceived gap.

Perhaps this is part of the wisdom of the Second Vatican Council that is yet to be fully understood – precisely into the empowerment of the laity and calling them to fully live out their life as Baptized Christians, “priests, prophets, and kings”, in a very real sense is planted the diaconate.  The order of the diaconate bridges the life of the lay person with the life and sacramental orders of the clergy.  For someone aspiring to orders as a deacon, what might this mean?  I believe that this means fully taking part in the proper clerical role of a deacon, while at the same time maintaining a life that otherwise is that of a faithful Catholic lay person. While being present in the ministries of sacrament and word in a liturgical sense, a deacon also sends the laity forth at the end of Mass, and then truly leads them forth, first among them, back to his home, his workplace, and the streets, parks, and secular places that need the light of Christ. Without “taking over” opportunities for the laity to serve in new and creative ways, the deacon in fact both sets an example and becomes a facilitator of the participation of the laity in their calling.  In this way, he “represents” them and their daily sacrifices at the altar, and he also leads by example in how to take the Word and make it present in the everyday culture and life in the secular world. In this sense, I don’t see the tension outlined by Hahnenberg being as present in a Church in which the diaconate has come back into its full nature and become the “bridge” closing the gap between clergy and laity.  In my own reflection, I see the deacon as playing a critical role in a truly “new theology of ministry.”

Submitted December 9, 2017, for assignment 3 of the course “Church History”, Instructor: Deacon Patrick J. Donahue, D. Min..

Getting the Rite Right: The Intent and Results of the Vatican II Liturgical Reforms

Essay: Church History II

Church interior at the time of sunday mass with people and priest in Montreal Canada wide angle

Of the four Constitutions resulting from the Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, was the first discussed and approved, and it was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 4, 1963, a year after the council opened.1  This Constitution had significant effects and led to a stark reform of the liturgy in the years just after the council, and it continues to impact the Church’s liturgy today. However, some of the ideas found in the document are still being addressed or contradicted in practice in many places today.  Liturgy remains one of the most controversial areas of reform in the years following the council.  On one side are those who advocate “the spirit of the council,” seeking to interpret the intent of the council fathers and enact liturgical changes in line with that interpretation. On the other hand, others favor a stricter interpretation of the council documents and more rigid adherence to tradition while still enacting the reforms for which the council called.

The debate over the liturgy seems to be at fever pitch today on blogs and in parish meeting rooms.  In an article relaying events of a Jesuit liturgical conference in Rome in June 2002, Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium was quoted summarizing the issue, “If Catholic worship before the council suffered from exaggerated ‘discipline and obedience,’… today in the rush to develop ever more creative liturgies, the ‘sense of mystery’ may get lost.”2  However, this debate is not a new area of discussion and divide. Five short years after the council, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship’s Liturgicae Instaurationes detailed the challenge of the day, and it sounds like something right out of today’s discussion:

 “there have been here and there both resistance and impatience. In the cause of holding on to the old tradition, some have received the changes grudgingly. Alleging pastoral needs, others became convinced that they could not wait for promulgation of the definitive reforms. In consequence, they have resorted to personal innovations, to hasty, often ill-advised measures, to new creations and additions or to the simplification of rites. All of this has frequently conflicted with the most basic liturgical norms and upset the consciences of the faithful”3

From the days just after Pope Paul VI promulgated Sacrosanctum concilium, its effects have been broad and far-reaching, but still haven’t been completely on target.

One might ask what the council fathers intended as a result of Sacrosanctum concilium.  A strict reading of the outline of the document provides a handful of intended principles. First, the council pointed out “the nature of the sacred liturgy and its importance in the Church’s life.”4  Then it called for the “fully conscious, and active participation… by the Christian people, as… their right and duty by reason of their baptism,” the proper training of the clergy in liturgy, and “the liturgical instruction of the faithful.”5  Next it called for “a general restoration of the liturgy itself, [in which]… both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify,” which reiterates the Church’s authority to regulate the liturgy, and permits “no other person, even if he be a priest… add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority,” and stressed the role each person plays based upon their rank or office. It also called for more reading of scripture within the liturgy, the proper placement of preaching, and for adapting the liturgy to the language, cultures, and traditions of peoples.6

In addition, Chapter II of the Constitution covered more intended changes specific to the Mass, including parts of the Mass to receive new emphasis (the homily, the Prayers of the Faithful), and expanded permission for concelebration.7 Chapter III-V covered changes to other Sacraments and sacramentals and renewing the structure of the liturgical year.  Finally, Chapters VI and VII covered music and art, calling for liturgy “celebrated solemnly in song, with the assistance of sacred ministers and the active participation of the people,” giving Gregorian chant pride of place.  But it also permitted other types of liturgical music, allowing for adaptation to local musical traditions and customs.  The pipe organ was given “high esteem,” but the admission of other instruments was permitted, “on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use.”  They called for composers and other artisans to bring their skill and talent to the renewal of the liturgy, contributing “art which is truly sacred… [striving] after noble beauty rather than mere sumptuous display.”8

Which of these changes have happened?  The “ordinary form” of the Mass, the Novus Ordo Missal first promulgated in 1969 and its subsequent revisions, have accomplished the renewal of the liturgy itself, restructured the liturgical year, and made room for more reading of scripture within the liturgy. In addition, it has given elements like the homily and Prayers of the Faithful their proper place, and allowed for concelebration. There seems to be a better sense of the nature of the sacred liturgy and its importance in the Church’s life.  The faithful now take a more conscious, active participatory role in the liturgy in many places.  National Directories for formation of priests and deacons call for the proper training of the clergy in liturgy (a structure begun with the Council of Trent).  Moreover, in many places, the liturgy is celebrated well and with good music and art that are truly sacred and strive for noble beauty.

On the other hand, the liturgical instruction of the faithful could be improved, and perhaps deeper liturgical instruction is what some of the “missing faithful” might need to better appreciate the liturgy.  Furthermore, the liberty that some clergy take in adding to the rite could be tempered in the spirit of the council’s desire that “no other person, even if he be a priest… add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”  In the Church in America, music has been an area of diversity and strength, but re-balancing the use of Gregorian chant to give it its “pride of place” would be one way to further align with the desires of the council.

Another area of consideration as it relates to the intent of the council fathers is that of adaptation in other (particularly non-Western) parts of the world.  To understand the gravity of the need for adapting the liturgy in other cultures, one might reflect on the reaction of Cardinal Joseph Malula of Kinshasa in the Congo, to the liturgy when Pope John Paul II became Pope.  He stated, “All that imperial paraphernalia…  All that medieval remoteness and inheritance that makes Europeans think that the Church is only Western.  All that tightness that makes them fail to understand that young countries like mine want something different, they want simplicity.  They want Jesus Christ.  All that, all that must change.”9  The spirit of Cardinal Mulala’s reaction can be seen within paragraphs 37 and 38 of Sacrosanctum concilium:

“Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community; rather does she respect and foster the genius and talents of the various races and peoples. Anything in these peoples’ way of life which is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error she studies with sympathy and, if possible, preserves intact. Sometimes in fact she admits such things into the liturgy itself, so long as they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit. Provisions shall also be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples, especially in mission lands, provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved; and this should be borne in mind when drawing up the rites and devising rubrics.”10

In Liturgy and Inculturation since Vatican II, Where Are We? What Have We Learned?, Mark R. Francis, CSV points out how the Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire, one of the first attempts at inculturation of the Roman liturgy in Africa, has elements that flow directly from African culture while still being patterned on the structure of the Roman Rite. Among these are the invocation of saints and ancestors at the start of the liturgy, the placement of the penitential rite just before the sign of peace and preparation of gifts, the use of dance, an “announcer” calling the assembly to worship paralleling a servant announcing the arrival of a chief.11

Turning to India, Francis writes of a proposed outline endorsed by the Indian bishops and approved by Rome that is “…known as the ‘Twelve Points of Liturgical Adaptation’ and opened the door to particularly Indian liturgical gestures and other symbols. Among the Indian cultural practices permitted in the Eucharist were semi-prostration instead of genuflection, an Indian style of incensing, offerings of flowers and fruits, and the use of Indian musical instruments.”12

A tidal wave of change hit the Church after the Second Vatican Council.  Some of the biggest waves hit upon the liturgy, the first area touched by the council.  The liturgy is “the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.”13  It is precisely the liturgy that needed to undergo change to bring the faith into the modern world.  The council fathers, however, seemed to indicate a desire for change balanced with tradition.  Some of the liturgical wishes of the council fathers remain outstanding and some have been addressed differently than imagined.  Still, the Church seeks to bring the true “spirit of the council,” a true encounter between the Church and modernity, into reality in a balanced way, to get the Rite right, as the council fathers intended.

Submitted December 2, 2017, for assignment 2 of the course “Church History”, Instructor: Deacon Patrick J. Donahue, D. Min..

Q&A: Reception of Baptised Christians into Full Communion

At one of the Masses last weekend in my home parish (the parish in which I’m also currently assigned), it was a pleasure to be assisting as an altar server as we received a new member – an already-baptized Christian – into full Communion of the Catholic Church. It was a special moment for me, because the woman who came into Communion of the Church is a fellow parent at our kids’ school, and is the wife of one of my old grade school classmates.

One of our friends from the parish asked a question on Facebook earlier, and I thought it would be helpful to answer it here for posterity. He asks, “At the 4 PM Mass there was an adult Baptism. Father did not pour water on the head of the person being baptized. My question is why.”

I’ll refer to the woman who was received into the Church here as “Catherine,” since that was the name that she took as her patron.

First, I’ll clarify that what happened at Mass was not a baptism. Because Catherine had already been baptized into a Christian church whose baptism we acknowledge as valid, she can’t be (and doesn’t need to be) baptized again. As the Church came to understand through the Second Vatican Council, she was already a member of the Church, the Body of Christ, by virtue of her Baptism, even if she wasn’t in communion with the Church from a “juridical” standpoint. After all, as we profess in the Nicene Creed, we “confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” (See: Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1246, and Code of Canon Law Canon 864) Since we recognize her Baptism as valid, nothing new would be gained by receiving the sacrament a second time, and it would be inappropriate to “baptize” her a second time.

What happened at Mass on Saturday is from the instruction on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), Reception of Baptised Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church (see section 5, starting on page 41 of the linked PDF): “This is the liturgical rite by which a person born and baptized in a separated ecclesial Community is received, according to the Latin rite, into the full communion of the Catholic Church. The rite is so arranged that no greater burden than necessary (see Acts 15:28) is required for the establishment of communion and unity.”

Since she was already a baptized Christian, and had been catechized and active in her Christian faith through her life, she simply underwent a catechetical program customized to her needs in order to be ready to be received into the Church, made a confession of sins privately beforehand, and then made a profession of faith within the context of the rite within the Mass. In this case, she was then Confirmed and joined the community in reception of the Holy Eucharist.

The ritual moment is described quite simply by Joseph Marrotta in his 2008 paper, “The Reception of the Previously Baptized into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church“:

“The actual ritual used to receive someone previously baptized into the Full Communion of the Church is simple. The preferred form takes place within the Eucharistic liturgy. After the entire group of faithful (not just those to be received) make a profession of faith (either the Nicene Creed or a renewal of baptismal promises), the celebrant asks the candidate or candidates to affirm that they “believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God.” (RCIA, 491) The priest or bishop then proclaims that the person has been received into the full communion of the Church. Many are surprised at the simplicity of the ritual.”

Marrotta continues:

“Viewed from the perspective of article 14 of Lumen Gentium, however, this rite makes perfect sense. A community of believers gathers. The presumption is that all are in a state of grace, each having celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation if necessary. They profess their faith; calling to mind the baptism that each has already received. To this point, the rite is a celebration of the full theological communion that already exists. Then, the candidates are asked to assent to the teaching authority of the Magisterium. By doing so, they are received into the juridical communion necessary for full communion to exist. Later in the celebration, all receive the sacrament that recognizes and nourishes the full communion of the Church – Holy Eucharist.”

It was a joy – a simple joy, at that – to receive Catherine, already baptized, into full Communion of the Church at Mass on Saturday evening. We join in prayer with and for her and all Christians.

The Church, and the People

Essay: Church History I

church-steeple

One might recall the childhood activity of folding one’s hands, fingers pointing inward through the knuckles, then rotating one’s hands open and waving the fingers around, saying, “Here is the Church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors, and see all the people.”  This child’s activity can call to mind the strength of the Church as a place and an institution, as well as the strength of the Church as the people of God.  This paper seeks to illustrate the presence of Church structure and the acknowledgement of the Church as “the people of God” as two complimentary yet contrasting aspects of Church, and how they have evolved through ages of the Church.  In a sense, this balance of Church structure and the people of God is representative of the balance between Peter and Paul and their influence in the early Church.  Peter’s writings convey his deep sense of his Jewish roots, expressed in the Judaic covenants and the journey of the Jewish people as God’s chosen people.  Paul, on the other hand, especially in his later pastoral epistles, imparts his desire to apply order and structure, like that of the Roman Empire, to the early Church.  As one studies various ages of the Church, one can see a constant striving for balance between the desire for a strongly structured, organizational Church, against a desire for a strong appreciation of God’s people as “Church.”

Good, Evil, & God: Understanding the Old Testament’s “Dark Passages”

Essay: Introduction to Scripture

rembrandt-abraham-isaac

In the book of the prophet Isaiah, God teaches mankind, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways… For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8-9 NABRE). The words of God in this passage, spoken through the Prophet, remind us that no matter how hard we try to come to a full knowledge and understanding of the ways of God in this life, we will still fall short. Modern skeptics argue against faith and the truth of Scripture with intelligent, well-researched, and well-structured arguments based on seeming inconsistencies found within the supposedly-inerrant Scriptures. The “Method B” approach of the modern, historical-critical skeptic zooms into snippets of Scripture and focuses on the origins, historical settings, and truths surrounding the text to understand it from a scientific viewpoint. Because of such a read, and forgetting that “[God’s] thoughts are higher than [our] thoughts,” a skeptic using this approach is unable to explain seeming contradictions scattered through the entire Canon of Scripture, or singular events or stories that stand in contrast to the full, revealed truth of God’s nature and essence. Particularly in the Old Testament, there are many different types of contradictions noted by modern scholars: the nature of God, the nature of good and evil, and the nature of the afterlife.

Today’s Office of Readings

I always start my day by offering the Morning Prayer of the church (as I’m obliged to do while in formation, and would promise to do if I am ever ordained.)

I usually don’t include the Office of Readings to start the day (I’m not obliged to do so), but I chose to this morning, and boy was I surprised! I picked a heck of a day to start.

From this morning’s Office of Readings (my emphasis added):

Second Reading: A letter to the Trallians by St Ignatius of Antioch
I wish to forewarn you, for you are my dearest children

Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to the holy church at Tralles in the province of Asia, dear to God the Father of Jesus Christ, elect and worthy of God, enjoying peace in body and in the Spirit through the passion of Jesus Christ, who is our hope through our resurrection when we rise to him. In the manner of the apostles, I too send greetings to you with the fullness of grace and extend my every best wish.

Reports of your splendid character have reached me: how you are beyond reproach and ever unshaken in your patient endurance – qualities that you have not acquired but are yours by nature. My informant was your own bishop Polybius, who by the will of God and Jesus Christ visited me here in Smyrna. He so fully entered into my joy at being in chains for Christ that I came to see your whole community embodied in him. Moreover, when I learned from him of your God-given kindliness toward me, I broke out in words of praise for God. It is on him, I discovered, that you pattern your lives.

Your submission to your bishop, who is in the place of Jesus Christ, shows me that you are not living as men usually do but in the manner of Jesus himself, who died for us that you might escape death by belief in his death. Thus one thing is necessary, and you already observe it, that you do nothing without your bishop; indeed, be subject to the clergy as well, seeing in them the apostles of Jesus Christ our hope, for if we live in him we shall be found in him.

Deacons, too, who are ministers of the mysteries of Jesus should in all things be pleasing to all men. For they are not mere servants with food and drink, but emissaries of God’s Church; hence they should guard themselves against anything deserving reproach as they would against fire.

Similarly, all should respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, just as all should regard the bishop as the image of the Father, and the clergy as God’s senate and the college of the apostles. Without these three orders you cannot begin to speak of a church. I am confident that you share my feelings in this matter, for I have had an example of your love in the person of your bishop who is with me now. His whole bearing is a great lesson, and his very gentleness wields a mighty influence.

By God’s grace there are many things I understand, but I keep well within my limitations for fear that boasting should be my undoing. At the moment, then, I must be more apprehensive than ever and pay no attention at all to those who flatter me; their praise is as a scourge. For though I have a fierce desire to suffer martyrdom, I know not whether I am worthy of it. Most people are unaware of my passionate longing, but it assails me with increasing intensity. My present need, then, is for that humility by which the prince of this world is overthrown.

And so I strongly urge you, not I so much as the love of Jesus Christ, to be nourished exclusively on Christian fare, abstaining from the alien food that is heresy. And this you will do if you are neither arrogant nor cut off from God, from Jesus Christ, and from the bishop and the teachings of the apostles. Whoever is within the sanctuary is pure; but whoever is not is unclean. That is to say, whoever acts apart from the bishop and the clergy and the deacons is not pure in his conscience. In writing this, it is not that I am aware of anything of the sort among you; I only wish to forewarn you, for you are my dearest children.