Please pray for me and my brother priests!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Nativity

Merry Christmas again to one and all! Unlike the secular culture, which abandons the Nativity of Christ even before the cord can be cut, we celebrate the Christmas season until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 13. (I say this only as an excuse for my Christmas blog being late!)

My Christmas was wonderful! I had the regular slate of Christmas Masses here at the parish, and was blessed to celebrate Midnight Mass with a local monastery of Poor Clare nuns. I spent the early part of Christmas afternoon with my family, and the late part of Christmas afternoon sleeping on my family sofa! It was a blessed day.

Anyhow, this wonderful article from is written by the inestimable Father James Schall, SJ, of Georgetown University. Enjoy and merry Christmas!

God love you!

The Nativity
by Rev. James V. Schall, SJ

"The Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us" (Jn 1: 14).

We begin with the Beginning. The Word was with God. The Word was God. Flesh did not make the Word. What "dwelt amongst us" was the Word, the Logos, nothing less. This is a fact. The whole world is different because of it. The whole world exists, though it need not have existed. And if it "need not," why does it exist? The Spirit of God is called the Gift. Father, Son, Spirit, one God.

The English poet, Robert Southwell, in "The Nativity of Christ," writes:

Gift better than himself God doth not know;
Gift better than his God no man can see.
This gift doth here the giver given bestow;
Gift to this gift let each receiver be.
God is my gift, Himself He freely gave me;
God's gift am I, and none but God shall have me.

The world is the gift of the Giver to those who can freely receive it. Not only is the whole of the cosmos God's gift, but it would not have been given unless someone within it could say, "God's gift am I." We are made in the Image of God. "Gift to this gift let each receiver be." We are first "receivers," having been received. This is our glory.

The Incarnation means that the Second Person of the Trinity, called "Word" within the Godhead, became man. Homo factus est. Once we are born, we dwell midst our kind. This event, this Birth, of which we speak happened once during the reign of Caesar Augustus, "when the world was at peace."

The Nativity of the Logos was not a myth, nor an imagination. The world is not the same because of it. Because of it, the world can be what it was intended to be from the beginning. How could the world be, granted ex nihilo, nihil fit? If the Word of the Godhead is born amongst us, something is being said to us about what we are, why we are. The Word addresses hearers of words. All things are changed. Man can only know what he is when he knows what this Incarnation was.

We begin in conception. The Angel of the Lord said unto Mary. We proceed to birth, to the nativity. Glory to the new-born King. The nativity means that what is inside the mother now appears in the visible world. Mary pondered these things in her heart. We begin our celebration of new life with its nativity, when we can see and touch it. We rightly remember the day of our birth, not that of our conception, which is much more obscure, however much it is our real origin in this world. We count our years from the date of our own nativity.

The birth of a child takes place in a given time and place. At least the mother is present, hopefully the father and other relatives and friends. Even though human birth is in pain, when the new life is once present, there, visibly, joy appears to those who behold it. The father is now present. He begins to see. Things have to be done. He must do them.

At Christ's birth, in Bethlehem, the words "we bring you tidings of great joy" are heard. Not just joy, but "great' joy.

The aged Simeon said "this Child is set for the rise and fall of many in Israel"

The faithful, all of them, are invited to come; even to come "joyful and triumphant."

Why are they to be "joyful and triumphant?" One cannot be "joyful and triumphant" unless he has a reason.

Do we have a reason?

"God is my gift, Himself He freely gives me."

The Nativity of Christ did occur. We are not idealists. We are able to affirm of what is, that it is. The paradox: the gift of God is Himself, freely given to me in His Incarnation and Nativity. Even when I am first a gift, a further gift is given to me. "Grace upon grace." The receiver of gifts is himself a gift. This is our metaphysics, grace upon grace.

The kind of being we are -- from the beginning, from every nativity -- is intended to see God face to face. We can reject this gift, the gift upon gift. We are given an end beyond our nature; we are fallen and redeemed.

Christmas is the feast of the Nativity, of the Word now made Flesh and visible to us. When the Word is made Flesh, nothing is the same. We can now return, if we will, to that for which we are created. God created the world so that within the world would be those to whom He could give His inner life. There is only one temptation, to make our end less than it was intended for us to know. "Behold I bring you tidings of great joy, for today is born to us a Son who is Christ the Lord."

Rev. James V. Schall, S. J., teaches political science at Georgetown University. His latest book, The Order of Things, is recently published by Ignatius Press.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Know that all of my readers are in my prayers, and I hope for you in this new year all of the good things God has prepared for those who love Him.
God love you!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Our Tainted Nature's Solitary Boast...

I have often used Wordsworth's beautiful line about Our Lady: "our tainted nature's solitary boast," but was not familiar with the whole poem.

Thanks to the Internet I found it in only a few seconds, and found it so beautiful I thought I might post it as a prelude to Christmas. Our Lady, seat of wisdom yet simple in her holiness, prepares for the birth of her Divine Son. Who is this Virgin to receive and bear such a gift? Who is this simple girl to be the instrument of the worlds coming salvation? Who is this woman whose heart too would be pierced?

She is Mary, the Mother of God and Our Mother, preserved from sin and entrusted to all who would seek to be beloved Disciples, ever Immaculate and ever Virgin, mother and maiden, wiser than Solomon yet simple in her humility. Mary.

Mary, meek and humble, pray for us.

God love you.

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied;
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies on daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, then the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven’s blue coast;
Thy image falls to earth. Yet some, I ween
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend
As to a visible Power, in which did bend
All that was mixed and reconciled in Thee
Of mother’s love with maiden purity
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Vocation Video, Circa 1964

I came across this great video on YouTube. It's a vocations film made by the Dominicans in 1964. I am a great "fan" (for lack of a better word) of the Order of Preachers. A great deal of my formation was entrusted to a loyal son of Dominic, and my Seminary was lead for a time by a fearless rector from the same order. Great video, and still as beautiful today as when it was made. (The vocation, that is.)

God love you,
Father V.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Am I the only one?

This article is taken from the Daily Mail out of London, via the Drudge Report. It is the heartwarming story of a woman, pregnant with twins who, following her doctor's advice, decides to abort one. Here's the heartwarming part: despite repeated attempts to kill one of the twins, he held on to dear life and was born healthy. He so strongly fought the attempts to kill him the doctors nicknamed him "Rocky."

What? You're missing the feel-good aspect of this story? You think that the people involved in this whole nefarious scandal should be embarrassed, indeed horrified, by their actions and not celebrating their failure? I do too. As I read this article, I thought to myself, "Am I the only one deeply troubled by this whole ordeal? Have we gone mad when the executioners celebrate the survival of their charge?"

Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled beyond imagining that this child, Gabriel, survived. However, this should be a call to conscience for all involved and not an "ahhh, isn't this nice" story.

Questions and comments are welcome.

God love you,
Father V.

We're twinseparable!
Happy with his brother, the boy who refused to die

3 November 2007

They say twins share a strong bond - but the one between Gabriel and Ieuan Jones was unbreakable.

When doctors found that Gabriel was weaker than his brother, with an enlarged heart,and believed he was going to die in the womb, his mother Rebecca Jones had to make a heartbreaking decision.

Doctors told her his death could cause his twin brother to die too before they were born, and that it would be better to end Gabriel's suffering sooner rather than later.

Mrs Jones decided to let doctors operate to terminate Gabriel's life
Firstly they tried to sever his umbilical cord to cut off his blood supply, but the cord was too strong.

They then cut Mrs Jones's placenta in half so that when Gabriel died, it would not affect his twin brother.

But after the operation which was meant to end his life, tiny Gabriel had other ideas.
Although he weighed less than a pound, he put up such a fight for survival that doctors called him Rocky.

Astonishingly, he managed to carry on living in his mother's womb for another five weeks - until the babies were delivered by caesarean section.

Now he and Ieuan are back at home in Stoke - and are so close they are always holding each other's hand.

Mrs Jones, 35, a financial adviser whose husband Mark, 36, is a car salesman, said: "It really is a miracle. Doctors carried out an operation to let Gabriel die - yet he hung on.
"It was unbelievable."

"When I felt him kicking madly the morning after the operation, I suddenly knew that he was going to hang on.

"The doctors couldn't believe it when they could still hear his heartbeat the next morning."

Rebecca Jones: 'It's a miracle'
Mrs Jones learned she was expecting twins when she was ten weeks pregnant. She said: "When they told us we were over the moon."

But at her 20-week scan, doctors had some devastating news. One of the boys was half the size of his brother.

They didn't know what was causing it, but somehow he wasn't getting enough nutrients.
Then doctors said his heart was three times normal size and it was likely he would have a heart attack or a stroke in the womb.

Mrs Jones said: "They told us that if he died, it could be life threatening for his brother.
"We had to decide whether to end his life and let his brother live, or risk them both."

They said it would be impossible to keep him alive afterwards as he was so poorly.
It would be kinder to let him die in the womb with his brother by his side than to die alone after being born.

"That made my mind up for me. I wanted the best thing for him."

At Birmingham Women's Hospital, when Mrs Jones was 25 weeks pregnant, doctors tried to sever Gabriel's umbilical cord to cut off his blood supply and allow him to die.
But the cord was too thick, and they could not cut through it.

As a last resort they divided Mrs Jones's placenta so that when Gabriel died, it would allow Ieuan to survive. Mrs Jones said: "I put my hands on my stomach thinking of Gabriel. It was devastating. I had said my goodbyes."

But the next morning Mrs Jones felt Gabriel kicking. A scan showed his heart was still beating. She said: "No one could quite believe it."

Gabriel hung on, and his enlarged heart started to reduce in size. He also gained weight.
Mrs Jones said: "They thought it may be because the placenta had been divided. Inadvertently, it had evened out the distribution of nutrition between them, allowing Gabriel to survive.'

When Mrs Jones reached 31 weeks doctors carried out a caesarian to deliver the twins. Ieuan weighed 3lb 8oz and Gabriel 1lb 15oz. Both were kept in hospital, but since going home they have thrived. At seven months, Ieuan weighs 15lb and Gabriel 12lb 6oz.

Mrs Jones said: "The boys are so healthy, they have huge appetites too. Ieuan is the noisy one, while Gabriel is always laughing, it's like he's just so happy to be here.
"There is such a strong bond between them.

"They are always holding hands and if one cries, the other reaches out to comfort him." "Doctors tried to break their bond in the womb, but they just proved it couldn't be broken."

Thriving: Gabriel, right, with his twin brother Ieuan, is now a healthy 12lb 6oz at seven months

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Frankenstein's Monster: The 'New Church'

Paradoxically, there has been in recent history, a disturbing trend among those in Catholic higher education to do all that they can to attack the Church and her moral teachings, and to distance themselves from their true identity in order to embrace and receive accolades from those in the liberal secular movement. This situation objectively causes great scandal and harm to the faithful. The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts provides the latest example.

Holy Cross is hosting a conference in which NARAL (National Association to Repeal Abortion Laws) and Planned Parenthood (the nations largest abortion provider and distributor of contraceptives) are the principle participants. The venue serves to promote and further their expressed goals, which run contrary to the truth about the dignity of the human person taught by the Church.

Why would a Catholic institution want to hurt what should be an integral part of its mission? The only reason I can deduce is that the institution, and those who run it, have abandoned the mission of the Church, and recreated the mission, and the Church, as they see fit. What they are left with is not the Church that Christ gave us, Christ guides, and Christ provides for our salvation. Instead they replace the Bride of Christ for the Bride of Frankenstein: a monster-church of their own making, comprised of various parts of secular ideologies and modern-liberal agendas, who contains no truth, no beauty, and no soul, and with a visage that can only be looked upon without horror only by those who created it. This monster-church, like Frankenstein's monster, mimics life as God gives it but reeks with the stench of death.

Truth be told, and to follow the Frankenstein analogy, even they come to hate this new creation, their monster-church with its false God. They come to see that their 'new church' is indeed not a new creation, but the work of the ancient Accuser and Father of Lies, who allows man to think that he has asserted his independence and superiority over God and His Church, all the while making him the most pathetic of slaves.

Bishop Robert McManus is the ordinary of Worcester and has bravely and strongly called Holy Cross to task. He calls them to their duty and dignity as a Catholic institution, and reminds them not to forget that he, as bishop, has "pastoral and canonical responsibility to determine what institutions can properly call themselves Catholic.”

This article from Catholic World News provides a good synopsis of the Bishop's statement.

Pray for Bishop McManus, and all Bishops, that they may have the courage of the Apostles whose successors they are, and proclaim the Truth of Jesus Christ in season and out, without counting the cost.

Questions and comments are welcome.

God love you!

Massachusetts Bishop Issues Warning to Jesuit College

Worcester, Oct. 11, 2007 ( - A Massachusetts bishop has strongly criticized a Jesuit-run college in his diocese, hinting that he could withdraw the school's recognition as a Catholic institution.

Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester issued a statement on October 10, responding to protests from lay Catholics about plans for a conference at the College of the Holy Cross in which Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts will make presentations. Siding with the pro-life protestors, Bishop McManus disclosed that he had urged Holy Cross to cancel the conference plans.

The organizations participating in the scheduled event, the bishop said, "promote positions on artificial contraception and abortion that are contrary to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church." Saying that the Church's position on key issues involving respect for life is "manifestly clear," he questioned why a Catholic school would offer these groups a forum. The bishop warned that the conference could create a "situation of offering scandal understood in its proper theological sense, i.e. an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil." By canceling the conference, he said, Holy Cross would not infringe upon academic freedom, but would "make unambiguously clear the Catholic identity and mission of the College of the Holy Cross."

Bishop McManus noted that as the head of the Worcester diocese in which Holy Cross is located he has the "pastoral and canonical responsibility to determine what institutions can properly call themselves Catholic.” He added: "This is a duty that I do not take lightly…"

The bishop concluded his public statement by expressing his "fervent wish" that Holy Cross would cancel plans for the conference, "so that the college can continue to be recognized as a Catholic institution committed to promoting the moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church."

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Great Clouds of Incense

I love to use incense at the Holy Mass. It helps to support an atmosphere of solemnity and beauty that is fitting to the greatest gift given by Christ to His Church, and the highest prayer the Church has to offer to God: the True Worship of God the Father as offered by Christ on His Cross. It helps man to understand that at Mass we enter into and are united with the worship offered God in Heaven by His Angels and Saints. If we are told, after all, that the angels stand amid clouds of incense singing God's praise in heaven, why shouldn't they do the same gathered around the altar, as they are, singing God's praise during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

Even though I think most people have a "gut" instinct about incense, one of the questions I often get after using incense at Mass is, "Why do you use incense?" or "What does the incense mean?" This great article from The Catholic Education Resource Center gives a great history of the liturgical use of incense, its symbolism, and its importance.

Questions and comments are welcome.

God love you!

Great Clouds of Incense
An unusual tree grows in the sultanate of Oman.

Standing about 15 feet high, with thick stems and dense branches, the Boswellia sacra looks like a shrub that needs pruning. Slash the trunk and a thick resin oozes out; wait a day or two and the resin will hardened into nuggets that look like rock candy. These nuggets are the raw material of incense. For thousands of years the Boswellia trees of Oman have provided the incense that burned in the temples of Egypt, Babylon, Athens, Rome, and of course the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Today, the incense burned in your parish church at a solemn Mass, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, or at a funeral probably came from Oman. ( Yemen has planted groves of Boswellia trees and exports incense, but Oman still dominates the market).

In the temple rituals of the ancient world incense played a symbolic and a practical role. Because it was rare, expensive, and would be completely consumed by fire, it was considered a suitable sacrifice to the gods. Furthermore, priests and people hoped that their prayers would rise to heaven like the great clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. Then there was the practical dimension of burning incense: in temples where animals were sacrificed and their carcasses burned, incense helped mask the stench.

Both the Old and the New Testaments tell us that incense is pleasing to God. In the book of Exodus God commands Moses to build a small, gold-plated altar specifically for burning incense every morning and evening (Exodus 30:1-8). In St. Luke’s gospel we read that St. Zachary the priest was about to offer incense in the Temple in Jerusalem when the archangel Gabriel appeared to announce that he and his wife Elizabeth were about to have a son, the future St. John the Baptist (Luke 1:8-13). And the book of Revelations describes a scene in Heaven in which an angel burned incense in a censer, “and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints… before God” (Revelations 8:3-4).

In spite of biblical endorsement of the practice, there is no evidence that Christians during the first three hundreds of the Church used incense at Mass. Perhaps Christians worried that clouds of incense billowing from their little house-churches would have attracted unwanted attention. Another reason is more probable: among the early Christians incense stirred up unhappy memories. During periods of persecution, Roman magistrates always offered a Christian the chance to save his or her life by burning a few grains of incense before an image of a pagan god. Christians who refused were executed, while those who out of a natural fear of pain and death complied and burned the incense became a source of shame and heartache for their fellow Christians.

For reasons are hard to pin down, by the late 4 th century the Church in the East had begun to use incense in worship. Etheria, a nun from present-day France who in 381 began a lengthy pilgrimage to the Holy Land, tells us that incense was burned in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. As the bitter memory of incense’s link to the era of persecution faded, the Church in the West took up the custom, too, censing everything that was considered holy—the bread and wine, the altar, the crucifix, the book of the gospels, the celebrant of the Mass and the sacred ministers, and the congregation. Today incense serves the same purpose as it did when Moses burned it in the desert—it pays homage to all that is holy, and symbolizes our prayers ascending to God.


Thomas J. Craughwell. "Great Clouds of Incense." Our Sunday Visitor.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

What can Brown do for you?

There is a wonderful blog written by "Sister Mary Martha," who if I am not mistaken, is a religious sister, commonly known as a nun. However, there is nothing common about her! She runs an extraordinary blog that I check out very often and really enjoy. She is faithful to the Lord and His Church, witty in her commentary, and a wonderful writer. (On top of all that, she is a sister, and anyone who knows me even causally knows that I love my sisters! They are an often underappreciated gift that God gives to His Church, and we should treasure them as such.)

So, with her permission, I am stealing a blog of hers, "What can Brown do for you?" It is about a most important Catholic sacramental called the 'scapular'. I realize that this may get my seperated brethren in a tizzy, but I hope they read this with an open mind, learn what the Church actually teaches on sacramentals, and enjoy Sister's sterling sense of humor.

I wear a scapular, and would invite every Catholic to do the same. It is a wonderful reminder of Our Lady's love for her children and our invitation to eternal happiness through everyday holiness.

(One more special thanks to Sister, as I was asked to write a blog on the scapular a while ago, and haven't found the time.)

God love you!

What can Brown do for you?
(A Homey Treatise on the Scapular)

I'm glad to have the opportunity to explain more about sacramentals, which seem to drive many people around the bend. I hope those who have been driven around the bend by sacramentals and the questions about them are offering up their suffering. It IS LENT.

We've had quite the discussion about the Brown Scapular.

One reader wants to know:
I am I to understand that as long as I wear the brown scapular (provided it doesn't fall off), I get to heaven even if I deny the Trinity, the Real Presence and Christ's Redemption by the Cross?

I really have to ask a question in return. If you deny the Trinity, the Real Presence and Christ's Redemption by the Cross, why on earth would you run around in a scapular all day every day? Clearly, you have no fear of hell in the first place.

But fine, for the sake of argument, let's pretend someone would do that. (We can do that while we're pretending the bones of the Jesus Family have been found and identified.)

Here's how I see it. Keep in mind I am an old nun that taught Catechism to second graders.

1. Our Lady made the Brown Scapular promise in direct reference to people who had devoted their lives to Christ and His Church. The Brown Scapular to which she refers is a part of their habit. So the promise already refers to the faith. She could have phrased it this way, "All you Carmelites will not see the fires of hell."

2. The Pope extended the promise to the rest of us, meaning, the Church Militant...which means, we believe the same thing. He didn't extend the promise to the separated brethren or the Wiccans.

3. As an old nun who taught Catechism, do I believe that you could be a Catholic believer, yet lead a sinful life and still not see the fires of hell because you wore a Brown Scapular? You bet I do! God can do anything He wants, including honoring Mary's hair-brained promises. God likes to cut people some slack whenever the opportunity arises. Perhaps Mary in her Motherly wisdom realizes that you have to look at that thing and shower with that thing and wear your prom dress with that thing every day of your life and that just maybe that will be enough of a reminder for you to dial it back and straighten up and ask for forgiveness. Like when Jimmy Cagney looks at a picture of his sainted mother while he's in the pokey and he's sorry for the sorry life he has led. So touching. These things happen.

Do you have to believe this? No, you don't.

4. Do I think if you wear a Brown Scapular and lead a sinful life and are not sorry ever but just run around saying, "Ha ha, I'm wearing a brown Scapular! Satan will never get me!" that you won't see the fires of hell? Not a chance. Satan already has you. The one time you take it off to shower, you'll slip on the soap and crack your head open. The bus that knocks you out of your shoes will knock you right out of your scapular. The flood waters that wash you away will wash the scapular off your neck. Your evil boyfriend will remove it while you sleep and murder you for your jewels. The paramedic will take it off to give you a shot of adrenaline that doesn't work. The nursing home worker will steal it from you. The atomic blast will vaporize the Scapular one millisecond before it vaporizes you. As you tumble, end over end, down the basement stairs with no one home to hear all the thumping, your scapular will be tossed off and land right before your eyes along with you at the foot of the stairs. As the life drains from you as you lay bleeding from your head wound, you will reach pathetically for your scapular, but the cat will grab it and run out the basement window. At some point, you are going to want to throw it in the wash. When you do, you'll drop dead.

You are not going to get away with it, mark my words.

From another reader:

The point I am trying to make is that when catholics make claims about sacramentals without giving the whole story, non-catholics easily fall into the "Catholics aren't Christian. Catholics are idolators" and a whole bunch of other stuff. I have to frequently explain to non-catholic friends the ideas of sacramentals, praying 'to' saints, and 'worshipping' the Blessed Virgin.

I have to do that all the time too. Offer it up. It's a great opportunity to set the record straight.

From yet another reader, this crackpot idea ( I had to correct some spelling):

Got to love how we try to secure salvation through any means possible, regardless of how puerile or ridiculous it is. How can a piece of cloth guarantee salvation? What are we, Hindu?

Along these same lines of superstitious, pagan left-overs in the Church, the Eastern Orthodox have numerous nifty wearable items and prayers to guarantee just the thing you need! Sure glad the church thought of everything. 100% money back guarantee, just like Folsom Lake Ford. Except this time it'll be too late to go spend your money.

The piece of cloth is a symbol of what we believe. You don't need the symbol to believe it. You can dump all your sacramentals and saint holy cards into the landfill tomorrow. No problem. You can forget about wearing a scapular. You don't have to believe in anything that came to us through private revelations: scapular, the Miraculous Medal, the St. Gertrude prayer...let it all go, no problem.

I may suggest also that you rid yourself of your family album and all those videotapes of the kids when they were little and the keepsake opal ring that belonged to your Grandmother because.... who needs reminders? What are we Hindu?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Reorienting the Mass

This article from Zenit (by way of Catholic Online) helps to explain the posture of the priest facing with the people towards the altar during Holy Mass. This posture, known as "ad orientem" (to the east) is the common posture in what is now called the "Extraordinary Form" of the Holy Mass, and is allowable, although sadly not widely practiced, in the Ordinary Form.

There is something beautiful, and unitive, about the people facing with the priest during the offering of the Holy Sacrifice. It symbolizes the fact that together, as the Church, we are all a pilgrim people moving together towards the Lord through out life. One body acting in concert towards one goal. It is not impossible to express this facing the people, but more difficult and sadly, as we have seen born out, easily lost.

What has been lost in wide measure is that the Mass is a dialogue with God, and not with each other (just it is also missed that the Mass is what God does for man and not man for God) . I believe that the common posture of priest and people accentuates and supports this divine dialogue. I also believe that this posture also accentuates the role of priest as head and shepherd, standing in the person of Christ, acting as mediator between God and man. Why is their a dearth of men answering the call to priesthood? The answer is legion, and no simple answer will suffice. However, I am sure that among those answers that could be had is the "new" and false model of priest as facilitator of the community's worship instead of the true model of priest as alter Christus, standing in the person of Christ, offering the true sacrifice of Calvary for the salvation of the world. This is a mystery worth living and dying for.

Questions and comments are welcome.

God love you!

Reorienting the Mass
Father Lang Comments on “Ad Orientem"

LONDON, SEPT. 26, 2007 (Zenit) - The statement asserting that the priest celebrating the older form of the Mass has "his back to the people" misses the point, says Father Uwe Michael Lang.

The posture "ad orientem," or "facing east," is about having a common direction of liturgical prayer, he adds.

Father Lang of the London Oratory, and recently appointed to work for the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, is the author of "Turning Toward the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer." The book was first published in German by Johannes Verlag and then in English by Ignatius Press. The book has also appeared in Italian, French, Hungarian and Spanish.

In this interview with us, Father Lang speaks about the "ad orientem" posture and the possibilities for a rediscovery of the ancient liturgical practice.

Q: How did the practice of celebrating the liturgy "ad orientem," or "facing east," develop in the early Church? What is its theological significance?

Father Lang: In most major religions, the position taken in prayer and the layout of holy places is determined by a "sacred direction." The sacred direction in Judaism is toward Jerusalem or, more precisely, toward the presence of the transcendent God -- "shekinah" -- in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, as seen in Daniel 6:10.

Even after the destruction of the Temple, the custom of turning toward Jerusalem was kept in the liturgy of the synagogue. This is how the Jews have expressed their eschatological hope for the coming of the Messiah, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the gathering of God's people from the diaspora.

The early Christians no longer turned toward the earthly Jerusalem, but toward the new, heavenly Jerusalem. It was their firm belief that when the Risen Christ would come again in glory, he would gather his faithful to make up this heavenly city.

They saw in the rising sun a symbol of the Resurrection and of the Second Coming, and it was a matter of course for them to pray facing this direction. There is strong evidence of eastward prayer in most parts of the Christian world from the second century onward.

In the New Testament, the special significance of the eastward direction for worship is not explicit.

Even so, tradition has found many biblical references for this symbolism, for instance: the "sun of righteousness" in Malachi 4:2; the "day dawning from on high" in Luke 1:78; the angel ascending from the rising of the sun with the seal of the living God in Revelation 7:2; and the imagery of light in St John's Gospel.

In Matthew 24:27-30, the sign of the coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory, which appears as the lightning from the east and shines as far as the west, is the cross.

There is a close connection between eastward prayer and the cross; this is evident by the fourth century, if not earlier. In synagogues of this period, the corner with the receptacle for the Torah scrolls indicated the direction of prayer -- "qibla" -- toward Jerusalem.

Among Christians, it became a general custom to mark the direction of prayer with a cross on the east wall in the apses of basilicas as well as in private rooms, for example, of monks and solitaries.

Toward the end of the first millennium, we find theologians of different traditions noting that prayer facing east is one of the practices distinguishing Christianity from the other religions of the Near East: Jews pray toward Jerusalem, Muslims pray toward Mecca, but Christians pray toward the east.

Q: Do any of the other rites of the Catholic Church employ the "ad orientem" liturgical posture?

Father Lang: "Facing east" in liturgical prayer is part of the Byzantine, Syriac, Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian traditions. It is still the custom in most of the Eastern rites, at least during the Eucharistic prayer.

A few Eastern Catholic Churches -- for example, the Maronite and the Syro-Malabar -- have lately adopted "Mass facing the people," but this is owing to modern Western influence and not in keeping with their authentic traditions.

For this reason, the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches declared in 1996 that the ancient tradition of praying toward the east has a profound liturgical and spiritual value and must be preserved in the Eastern rites.

Q: We often hear that "facing east" means the priest is celebrating "with his back to the people." What is really going on when the priest celebrates Mass "ad orientem"?

Father Lang: That catchphrase often heard nowadays, that the priest "is turning his back on the people," misses the crucial point that the Mass is a common act of worship in which priest and people together -- representing the pilgrim Church -- reach out for the transcendent God.

What is at issue here is not the celebration "toward the people" or "away from the people," but rather the common direction of liturgical prayer. This is maintained whether or not the altar is literally facing east; in the West, many churches built since the 16th century are no longer "oriented" in the strict sense.

By facing the same direction as the faithful when he stands at the altar, the priest leads the people of God on their journey of faith. This movement toward the Lord has found sublime expression in the sanctuaries of many churches of the first millennium, where representations of the cross or of the glorified Christ illustrate the goal of the assembly's earthly pilgrimage.

Looking out for the Lord keeps the eschatological character of the Eucharist alive and reminds us that the celebration of the sacrament is a participation in the heavenly liturgy and a pledge of future glory in the presence of the living God.

This gives the Eucharist its greatness, saving the individual community from closing in upon itself and opening it toward the assembly of the angels and saints in the heavenly city.

Q: In what ways does "facing east" during the liturgy foster a dialogue with the Lord?

Father Lang: The paramount principle of Christian worship is the dialogue between the people of God as a whole, including the celebrant, and God, to whom their prayer is addressed.

This is why the French liturgist Marcel Metzger argues that the phrases "facing the people" and "back to the people" exclude the one to whom all prayer is directed, namely God.

The priest does not celebrate the Eucharist "facing the people," whatever direction he faces; rather, the whole congregation celebrates facing God, through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.

Q: In the foreword to your book, then Cardinal Ratzinger notes that none of the documents of the Second Vatican Council asked for the altar to be turned toward the people. How did this change come about? What was the basis for such a major reorientation of the liturgy?

Father Lang: Two main arguments in favor of the celebrant's position facing the people are usually presented.

First, it is often said that this was the practice of the early Church, which should be the norm for our age; however, a close study of the sources shows that this claim does not hold.

Second, it is maintained that the "active participation" of the faithful, a principle that was introduced by Pope Pius X and is central to "Sacrosanctum Concilium," demanded celebration toward the people.

Recent critical reflection on the concept of "active participation" has revealed the need for a theological reappraisal of this important principle.

In his book "The Spirit of the Liturgy," then Cardinal Ratzinger draws a useful distinction between participation in the Liturgy of the Word, which includes external actions, and participation in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where external actions are quite secondary, since the interior participation of prayer is the heart of the matter.

The Holy Father's recent postsynodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis" has an important discussion of this topic in Paragraph 52.

Q: Is a priest forbidden from "facing east" in the new order of the Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970? Is there any juridical obstacle prohibiting wider use of this ancient practice?

Father Lang: A combination of priest and people facing each other during the Liturgy of the Word and turning jointly toward the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, especially for the Canon, is a legitimate option in the Missal of Pope Paul VI.

The revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which was first published for study purposes in 2000, addresses the altar question in Paragraph 299; it seems to declare the position of the celebrant "ad orientem" undesirable or even prohibited.

However, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments rejected this interpretation in a response to a question submitted by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna. Obviously, the relevant paragraph of the General Instruction must be read in light of this response, which was dated Sept. 25, 2000.

Q: Will Pope Benedict's recent apostolic letter liberalizing the use of the Missal of John XXIII, "Summorum Pontificum," foster a deeper appreciation for "turning toward the Lord" during the Mass?

Father Lang: I think many reservations or even fears about Mass "ad orientem" come from lack of familiarity with it, and the spread of the "extraordinary use" of the Roman rite will help many people to discover and appreciate this form of celebration.

Contact: Catholic Online CA, USCatholic Online - Publisher, 661-869-1000

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Great Video!

I found this great video on YouTube and thought I would share it with you.

God love you!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Howard on the Rosary at Gordon

This is the conclusion to Dr. Howards fine talk at Gordon College. It is very short, and on the Rosary, and very beautiful.

He addresses, I believe, most of the objections people have to the Rosary. It's not exhaustive by any means, but a wonderful catechetical reflection. Again, keeping in mind it was delivered at Gordon College, quite amazing!

God love you!

Howard at Gordon on the Rosary

I might wind this up here by mentioning one item that is as sticky as any of the items on the list of questions that good Evangelicals have about Roman Catholic piety. I mean the Rosary.

If anything on earth looks like the vain repetition the Bible warns us against, it would certainly be the Rosary. It entails seemingly endless repetitions of the Hail Mary. That can't possibly be "prayer", surely?

Let me see if I can help you see at least the reason Catholics appreciate the Rosary. First, we all know how terribly difficult it is to fix our minds in Christian meditation. If you have attempted it yourself, you know that your worst enemy is wandering thoughts. You also know that you very quickly run out of things to say when you are pondering one of the Gospel mysteries (and surely if one is a serious Christian one will have as part of one's daily exercises just such meditating and pondering). The Rosary supplies us with a way of tarrying (that is the key word, actually) in a systematic and progressive way, in the presence of all the great events of our salvation, in the company of the one who was most receptive to the Lord, namely, the Virgin Mary, who said, you will remember, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done unto me according to Thy word." Alas--that is what you and I, in our father Adam and our mother Eve did not say in Eden; and it is one way of summing up this whole process of growth in the Christian life we have embarked on. If only I can learn, increasingly, to say, from my heart, "Be it done unto me according to Thy word."

The Rosary presents us with fifteen of the Gospel events--the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and so forth-and, by giving us a sort of refrain to murmur as we place ourselves in conspectu Dei at each scene--the way charismatics will murmur "Jesus! Jesus!" or the way we Evangelicals repeat "Alleluia!" or "Crown him! crown him!" in a hymn--by giving us a quiet refrain to keep on our tongues as we tarry, it helps us to stay in place. The words are like ball bearings, so to speak. They assist our poor scattered faculties to stay in line. And of course, the "Hail Mary" is biblical: we are simply repeating Gabriel's salutation to this woman--we are one of the many generations who want to call her blessed, as she herself sang in the Magnificat. For of course she was the one of us who was taken most intimately into the whole drama of redemption: the patriarchs and prophets and kings and apostles all bore witness to the Word: Mary bore the Word. She is the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. Insofar as we increasingly unite our own aspirations with hers, we move closer and closer into intimate union with the Lord. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord": if only I can learn to say that, in a thousand situations all day long when irritation, or resentment, or lust, or impatience surge up in me. "Be it done unto me according to Thy word." It is a wonderful frame of mind for a Christian to aspire to. The Rosary, day by day, presents to us those events upon which our souls ought to be habitually dwelling and helps us to tarry in those Gospel precincts.

My time is up. I have scarcely touched on this matter of the Virgin Mary and have said nothing of the Pope, or of prayers to the saints, and Purgatory, and so many other things that seem an outrage to ardent Evangelical imagination. As a form of shorthand, I may simply say that every single one of these notions and practices is profoundly centered on Jesus Christ who, says the Roman Catholic Church, echoing Saint Paul, is "the one mediator between God and man".

There are gigantic matters that we could talk about. For my part, I want to say a most fervent and heartfelt thanks to Gordon College or having me here today. All my memories of my fifteen years on the faculty here are good memories. God bless and prosper Gordon College, say I.

Thomas Howard at Gordon College

Dr. Thomas Howard is, if nothing else, a very interesting man with an extraordinary writing style. I might add that he is a good, devout man who speaks well of His Lord and His Church, and on the occasions I have had to meet him, he has been most warm and charming. This lecture, given at Gordon College, is another example of his fine work.

His story is quite interesting, as is his gradual move from a 'prominent' evangelical family into Anglicanism, and finally into the Church. To be invited back to his evangelical alma mater to speak is quite a feat, I would think.

It is an excerpt taken from his new book "The Night Is Far Spent" and very much worth the read. It is a little long, but I think everyone, Catholic and Protestant and everyone in-between, will gain a great deal from reading it (and it should generate some good discussion, I think). As the article is long enough, I will stop writing now!

Questions and comments are welcome and encouraged.

God love you!

Howard at Gordon

Editor's Note:In his books and articles, Thomas Howard has never been one to shy away from controversy. While attending the Evangelical Church of his parents and teaching English at an Evangelical college, Howard wrote his provocative best-seller Evangelical is Not Enough. Soon after entering the Anglican Communion, Howard began asking the kinds of questions that would eventually lead him into the Roman Catholic Church.

Throughout his pilgrimage of faith, Howard wrote numerous thought-provoking yet respectful articles on a wide range of topics for both Protestant and Catholic publications, gaining him a wide and loyal following. Known for his wit and charm, Howard also was a sought after speaker for conferences and college graduations. Due to a request made by one of his faithful readers, this collection of Howard's best material has now been published: The Night Is Far Spent: A Treasury of Thomas Howard. Liturgical reform and sacred architecture, women's ordination and hierarchical authority, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien--these and many other topics of interest to Protestants and Catholics alike are tackled by Howard with his characteristic thoughtfulness in these articles and speeches--many of them never before published--that span more than twenty years of his prolific career.

The following essay was originally a lecture given at Gordon College, June 1995.

My guess is that a great clutter of bric-a-brac swims into your imagination when you hear of Catholic spirituality: rosaries, holy water stoups, crucifixes, little plastic Saint Christophers for your dashboard, and laminated holy cards depicting pastel-tinted saints with their eyes cast soulfully up into the ozone, not to mention all the polychrome statues and banks of candles flickering in little red glass cups (there are even electric candles that have a bogus flicker).

My guess is also that I am addressing at least three groups of people all stirred in together here in this assembly. The biggest group of you would locate yourselves in that wing of Protestantism known as Evangelicalism and will have been brought up in Evangelical households. A second group will tell us, "I was a Catholic until I was fifteen, then I met Jesus", or "I was Catholic until I was seventeen, then I, became a Christian." A third group of you are Roman Catholic even as we speak and may possibly have discovered that some of your colleagues here are very far from satisfied that your Catholicism qualifies you as a Christian. There may also be a fourth group, namely, those of you who are trying to shuck off whatever remnants of the Christian religion are still clinging to you so that you can get on with your own agenda.

Let me see if I can throw any light on this topic of Catholic spirituality so that the whole array of us may grasp things in a fairly clear light.

As you know, all of us do what we do for reasons that have roots in our history and culture. Some Jews, for example, wear great fur hats and long black coats and white stockings. You need to inquire into their history before you decide that they have unstylish taste. Calvinists put the pulpit at the center of focus in their churches: they have passionate reasons for adopting this architectural arrangement. Evangelicals sing a certain kind of gospel song, or praise song, which finds its roots in modern American culture. I am speaking, of course, of tradition. To be human at all is to be deeply rooted in tradition. We would all agree that there are bad traditions and good traditions: suttee in India, I suppose, and the shackling of slaves would be bad traditions, whereas taking off one's hat in a church and standing up when a woman comes into the room would be good traditions. To say that something is traditional leaves open the question as to whether it ought to be changed. If it is frivolous, or brutish, or misbegotten, then we would all agree that change is indicated.

There is no such thing, as you know, as nontraditional Christianity. What we do when we meet with other believers for worship, and the sequence we follow, and the very phrases and vocabulary that crop up--these did not spring straight from the pages of the New Testament yesterday. John Wesley, or General William Booth, or Menno Simons, or John Calvin, or Martin Luther, or J. N. Darby, or John Wimber, or D. L. Moody, or Roger Williams, or A. J. Gordon, or Ignatius of Antioch, or Clement of Rome, or Justin Martyr, or Gregory I--these gentlemen stand there between you and the morning of Pentecost in Jerusalem two thousand years ago.

Even if you strive mightily for spontaneity in your worship, for example, you find two things: first, there is an ancient tradition of efforts at spontaneity in worship--it is called Montanism--and secondly, you discover that your spontaneity very quickly jells into half a dozen or so phrases and gestures. We are all human, forsooth, and we can no more shuck off tradition than we can shuck off these bodies of ours.

As our forerunners in the ancient Faith moved out from that dazzling Pentecostal morning into the long haul of history, we find that the touchstone for their life together, and for their prayer, and for their worship, was apostolic. Christianity was not just a higgledy-piggledy aggregate of independent believers and groups scattered across Samaria and Asia Minor. You had to be in obedient, visible, organic communion with the apostles themselves. Then, as the decades roiled on and Peter and John and James and the others died, you found yourself under the authority of the men on whom they had laid their hands. These men were overseers, or pastors: bishop is the word that came into play very quickly. If you were a Christian, you said, "Polycarp is my bishop", or "Ignatius is my bishop." There was no such thing in the Church to which you and I owe our faith--there was no such thing as an independent, or individualistic, Christian.

Naturally, zealous types popped up out of the weeds every hour on the half hour, so to speak, saying, "Hi, guys: I'm starting me a church over here", or "I've got a word from the Lord", or "The Holy Ghost has revealed thus and such to me." These men were called heresiarchs by the Christians (there were some women, too).

Things were very strict, actually: if you doubt this, look at Saint Paul's Epistles or eavesdrop on the Council in Jerusalem, which the apostles convened to decide what you were supposed to do about certain matters of conscience. The Christians were not left organizing workshops and symposia to hash over issues: the apostles told you what to do and what to believe. This news may make you skittish, but all of us, Baptist, O.P.C., Coptic, R.C., or Grace Chapel, have to agree that that was the way the apostles did things, for good or ill. If we attempt a different scheme, we do so under the titanic gaze of that great cloud of witnesses who, says the Book of Hebrews, are watching us as we stumble along through our fragment of history.

To be a believer at all in those early days was to look on yourself, not so much as a private individual who had accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, but rather as one who had joined himself to this entity called the Church. If, say, you were a Christian shopkeeper in Antioch, and I, your pagan neighbor, having watched you and your fellow believers for a couple of years, came to you and said, "Um, I think I'd like to become a Christian", you would not say to me, "Oh! Great! Here's John 3:16. We can just bow our heads here, and you can repeat this prayer after me, and then you'll be a Christian." No. You would say to me, "Ah. You want to be a Christian, do you? Well--I'll introduce you to our bishop, Ignatius, and he will turn you over to some of the Christians for instruction for about a year, and you will be allowed to sit in on our worship (but you'll have to leave when we get to the Lord's Supper every week), and then, next year the bishop will baptize you, and then you'll be a Christian."

If this sounds peculiar to us modern American believers, our attitude toward it is an index of how far we have removed ourselves from the disciplines and traditions of the very men to whom we owe our faith. And incidentally here, that ancient scheme may be what lies at the bottom of the confusion Evangelicals sometimes encounter when they ask some Roman Catholic if he is "saved" or "born again". Most Catholics will mutter and hem and haw, and possibly croak out, "No--I'm a Catholic." In so doing, he is groping for an identity that goes back to apostolic times. That word catholic came into play within a few decades after Pentecost. To be catholic was to be identified with Peter and John and Paul, and with Ignatius and Clement and Polycarp, and with that odd crowd in the Roman Empire who worshipped God and his servant Jesus (this is how they often phrased it). It was a profoundly corporate identity. Individualism had not taken control in those centuries, and, interestingly enough, it was at that time that what we see today as Roman Catholic piety began to form itself.

Which brings up a point: earnest Christian believers often speak of "going back to the Book of Acts", or of taking their cues from the New Testament alone, as though they were saying something trenchant. What they miss, of course, is that the infant Church did not take her cues from the New Testament (there was none), and secondly, that in this New Testament you can't find a blueprint for Christian worship (Acts 2:42 lists four ingredients of their meetings together, but does not tell us how they arranged things). And thirdly, of course, to insist too shrilly on a rigorous adherence to the letter of Acts 2:42 is to suggest that the seed which the Holy Ghost planted was a poor seed and never grew. A Roman Catholic sees the growth of the Church, and of her worship, not as a matter of naughty medieval popes Scotch-taping accretions onto the Church's worship until finally you get an extravaganza called a High Mass, but rather as the organic budding and flowering and fruit-bearing of a tree from a healthy seed--a tree big enough for all the birds of heaven to roost in, to borrow the Gospel phrase. So that, when you point out to a Catholic that his worship, the Mass, scarcely looks like those huddled gatherings in the Upper Room and so forth, he will be thinking of the habit that acorns have of growing into enormous oaks, which of course don't look like acorns at all.

This brings us to another point which I might be able to help with here. On this matter of the Mass, or the liturgy, as the apostolic Church called her worship, we blunder into something that might surprise you. When you go to the very, very earliest documents in the Church, you find that corporate worship had taken on a highly specific form. They met, not for a sermon mainly, nor for fellowship mainly, nor primarily for teaching, nor singing, nor anything else at all except the Eucharist. The Lord's Table, in other words. That, from the beginning, was what they meant by worship. They would have been stumped to find Christians two thousand years later gathering for corporate worship on the Lord's Day without celebrating the Eucharist.

And not only this: their worship did not take any old form. They knew nothing at all of spontaneity. Like the Lord Jesus, who had grown up in the synagogue, and like all the people of God right back to Moses and before, they would have known that, when you come together on a regular, recurring, long-term basis to offer the sacrifice of adoration at the Sapphire Throne, you need a form,. For the form sets you free from the shallow puddle of your own ad hoc resources of the moment and draws you into the dignity, nobility, and splendor attending the angelic worship of the Most High, and for which you and I yearn with fathomless yearning. For we mortals are, of course, ceremonial creatures. Hurrah for spontaneity in its place, but when we come to the great, central, profound mysteries that undergird our mortal life--birth, marriage, worship, and death--then we reach for a form. A ceremony. Every tribe, culture, society, and civilization has known this.

Why do we ceremonialize that which matters the most to us? Why do you brides dress up that way and walk so slowly down the aisle? Why do they drive the hearse so slowly? Why do you put those candles onto that birthday cake?

Because, you and I would protest, the ceremony, far from obscuring the event and far from cluttering things up, lo and behold, brings home to us the full weight of significance. Oh, to be sure, obstetrics and gynecology are to be praised for their assistance in getting our babies launched, but when we come to what it means--that a new person has appeared on the scene--ah, then, we need to go deeper than the obstetrics can carry us, and the only way we can do that is by means of ceremony. All Jews and all Orthodox and Roman Catholic and Anglican Christians count on this; and all Muslims and Hindus, and indeed people of every tribe and culture, will testify to this. So, if you tax a Roman Catholic friend about why Catholics stick with a rigid form for worship, he will not quite grasp what you are urging on him. Surely, he would want to know, you don't seriously suppose that spontaneity is what we want when we come, as the holy people of God, week after week, century after century, to offer the sacrifice of adoration at the Sapphire Throne?

It may also be helpful here if I explain that not only the structure of the Mass itself--the first part, called the Synaxis, which contains all the scriptural readings, and the sermon and the creed and the prayers, and the second part, called the Anaphora, with the Great Thanksgiving and the Communion itself--that not only this structure, but also the very words themselves, go back to the first and second centuries. It is a tremendously moving thing, believe me, to read the texts of what those early Christians said and did when they gathered, and then to hear those same words in the liturgy in your local parish from Sunday to Sunday. A glorious and unbroken continuity unfurls itself: you know that you are linked with the apostles, the Fathers, the martyrs, the bishops and confessors, and the whole company of the faithful from Pentecost to our own day. A Roman Catholic has a difficult time grasping why Christians would wish to set this ancient liturgy on one side in favor of a modern blueprint.

But my guess is that by this time some of you may be murmuring, "Well--it's all very well, the noble antiquity of which you speak. But come: all these Irish plumbers and Sicilian pasta-cooks and Cuban taxi drivers--am I to believe that they are swept into such dizzy heights every time they go to Mass?"

A legitimate question Touché. And the answer, of course, is no--no more than your average Hebrew saw the glory of God every time the Levites blew the trumpets, nor than your average Presbyterian lawyer or Episcopalian CEO or Gordon College undergraduate, sees that glory when the organ, or the guitars, strike up the opening hymn. We mortals don't do very well with this business of worship. Where was your mind--where was min---during the singing of the hymn a few minutes ago? Alas. But all of us, Baptist, Pentecostal, or Catholic, would reach for Saint Augustine's maxim abusus non tollit usus, if some nonreligious friend of ours suggested that we ought to abandon our worship practices since most of the time our minds are wandering anyway. "The abuse of a thing does not take away its proper use." We don't throw in the towel on chapel at Gordon because people's minds wander or they read a magazine in their laps. We soldier on, keeping the gate of the tabernacle open, so to speak, so that good and holy souls may come and offer their offerings, and so that others of us, finding ourselves in these precincts, may perhaps be roused to our duties toward the Divine Majesty.

Let me touch on one other point about Roman Catholic worship and piety that, I think, constitutes a scandal to Protestant Christians. It is this business of the physical. Catholics kneel, and bow, and cross themselves. Some even strike their breast during the Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God"). And there is often incense. The celebrant wears elaborate vestments. There are candles, and holy water, and bread and wine. It is not at all the Geneva or Zurich or Edinburgh pattern of things. Isn't it all, really, pagan?

Well, yes, if you mean that pagans use incense and bow and light candles. But the minute we say that we know we are in trouble, since pagans also gather for worship, and pray, and listen to teaching, just as we Christians do. And pagans kneel, the way many of you do at your bedside. Clearly we can't adopt the rule that says, If the pagans do it, we Christians mustn't. The point is, we men bow, and kneel, and gather, and lift up holy hands. The rub comes when you ask which deity is being invoked. If it is Baa! or Osiris, then you have paganism. If it is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, then you have Christian worship.

But again--hasn't the New Testament put an end to all ceremony? Isn't worship a matter strictly of the inner man now?

Well, yes, if you mean that the Father seeks those who will worship him in spirit and in truth. But of course, that's not a New Testament innovation: the prophets were forever harrying Israel about the same thing. And John Knox and Jonathan Edwards and Søren Kierkegaard harried the Protestants about their farcical and empty worship rituals. Catholics have no corner on this difficulty.

So--granting that it is always difficult for us mortals to bring together and keep together the outward form (the singing in Gordon chapel of "Crown Him with Many Crowns", say) and the inner reality (my heart actually aspiring thus to crown the mystic Lamb)--granting this severe difficulty, shouldn't we pare things down to a stark minimum so that the danger of mere mumbo-jumbo is diminished?

Possibly so. On the other hand, of course, you and I are not Gnostics. We are not Manicheans. Those were the people who wanted religion to be a matter of our flying off into a vacuous and disembodied ether, jettisoning these embarrassing flesh-and-blood bodies of ours, with all of the sneezing and wheezing they bring along. All of those highminded, nineteenth-century Bostonians like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott and William Ellery Channing, were quasi-Manicheans. They wanted Christianity to be fumigated and cerebral. Sit in your New England church on a wooden pew and think about God. But please--no smells and bells. Please.

You and I would answer Emerson and company by pointing out that Christianity, far from being the religion merely of the Book, like Islam, is profoundly fleshly. But after the altars and lambs and heifers and burned fat of the Old Testament, we get spiritual: right? Wrong. There is a Conceiving--of a babe in the womb of a young girl. There is parturition, and circumcision. There is water to wine at a wedding. And there is your salvation and mine, wrought, not by edicts handed down from the heavens, but by thorns and splinters and nails and gashes. But then we get spiritual--right? Wrong again. A body, out of the sepulchre. And worse yet--that body--our human flesh, taken up at the Ascension into the midmost mysteries of the Holy Trinity. When's the last time you heard a sermon on the implications of the Ascension? And then, of course, not just a book, but Bread and Wine, given to us, day by day, for as long as history lasts. A very physical religion we belong to.

This is what is bespoken in the Roman Mass. The Mass is sacramental worship, as they say: that is, the physical is understood as being the nexus between the seen and the unseen; between time and eternity; just as it was on the altars of Israel, and in the flesh of the Incarnate Son of God, and on the Cross, and in the Resurrection and the Ascension. And you and I are more than souls, or intellects. Jesus Christ has saved the whole man, kneecaps, eardrums, nostrils, and all: hence Christians kneel to pray, and play guitars in their worship, and bring incense. It is good for my heart that my knees touch the floor. It is good for my soul that my neck muscles bend a bit when I say grace at lunch. These physical things belong to the seamless personhood that is me. Emerson had it all wrong.

The ending of this lecture, which is very short and on the Rosary, will be in the next blog. God love you!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mary and Superstition

Archbishop Sean Brady of Ireland spoke recently at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock on the need to trust in God, allow our Lady to be our advocate, guide and intercessor, and eschew the superstitious practices of popular and new age culture. What these practices demonstrate is a lack of faith and trust in God's providence and plan for us. We must trust that God is in control and submit ourselves in faith, hope and love to His plan.

The Archbishop speaks very rightly of Our Lady as the perfect example for us. A young girl, she was told by an angel she was to bear the Son of God. After His birth, she was told that they must flee to a forign land for His safety. At His presentation in the Temple, she was told that He was destined for the rise and fall of many nations, and that a sword too would pierce her heart. At His crucifixtion she stood by and trusted through her mourning, holding His Sacred Body in her arms and loving and trusting in God's providence all the more.

Mary is our exemplar, our advocate and our Mother. To walk in the footsteps of Mary is to walk with Christ, and to love with the heart of Mary is to enthrone Christ in our own hearts. Let us ask for her intercession, her prayers, and her faith, that we may be as faithful to her son as she was, and come to share in the reward won through His cross.

Questions and comments welcome!
God love you!

Archbishop: Superstitious Need More Trust
Says Astrology and Tarot Cards Reveal Fear of Future

KNOCK, Ireland, AUG. 22, 2007 ( Astrology, palm reading and tarot cards are superstitions that conceal a lack of trust in God's providence, according to Archbishop Sean Brady.

Archbishop Brady of Armagh, primate of all Ireland, said this today while celebrating the Mass of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Ireland's National Marian Shrine of Knock, visited annually by over 1.5 million pilgrims.

Speaking on the theme of "Following Christ in 21st-century Ireland," Archbishop Brady said that today's challenge is to keep "our lives focused on Christ amid the distractions of increasing prosperity."

He explained: "The land of saints and scholars has become better known as the land of stocks and shares, of financial success and security."

"Tragically it has also become a land of increasing stress and substance abuse. And all of this has occurred as the external practice of faith has declined."

"One of the most subtle but disturbing signs of this underlying fear in Irish life is the increasing reliance of people on practices which claim to 'unveil' the future," the 68-year-old archbishop affirmed. "Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, tarot cards, recourse to clairvoyance and mediums conceal a desire for power over time and a lack of trust in God's providence.

"They are the new Irish superstition. Those who put their trust in them or take them seriously are colluding with an illusion, promoting a fiction. Underlying this trend of 'future telling,' is a fear of the future.

"It is a symptom of the insecurity that lurks behind the seeming confidence of modern Irish culture and life. It is evidence of the failure of a life without God to address the deepest needs of the human spirit."

Discipleship of Mary

"[A]s we face the myriad of challenges of being a disciple in 21st-century Ireland," Archbishop Brady explained, "Mary is the perfect disciple today, just as she has always been through the first two millennia of the Church's existence."

"Indeed our Gospel reminds us that the example of Mary, [is] to say 'yes' at every moment, of every day, to follow Jesus, to say 'yes' to putting our complete trust in God's word and in his plan," he continued. "And so it is Mary who reveals to us the essential virtue for those who wish to follow Christ in the Ireland of the 21st century.

"That virtue is trust. Trust in the power of God to do all things.

"Mary always directs us to Christ. She knows that he alone can give us everything we need. Everything we need as disciples in the Ireland of the 21st century. Everything we need as a Church."

Archbishop Brady added: "The challenges may change in their detail, the culture in which we live might alter from one generation to the next, but the fundamental call of the Christian disciple remains the same in every age, to say 'Fiat, voluntas tua,' -- 'Be it done unto me according to thy Word!'"

Schall on the 'Tridentine' Mass

This great article from Ignatius Insight is written by the inestimable Father James Schall, SJ. Father Schall speaks of the Holy Father's Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum and it's real intention: liturgical integrity. Father Schall is a reasonable and wise voice on many issues, and I am glad he has added his voice to the chorus of right reason on this issue as well.

Many have asked, "Doesn't the Church have real problems to worry about without worrying what language the priest uses and which direction he faces?" I would answer with a resounding no. The Church exists from the Eucharist and for the Eucharist. If the singularly most important event in Church life can't, or isn't, done properly, it doesn't bode well for everything else the Church does.

The evidence for this can be found in a 1,001 abuses in any given parish at any given time. Many good priests may think that I state my case to strongly, because they are personally reverent and don't often attend masses celebrated by another priest. However, as a newly ordained, it wasn't to long ago I sat in the pews and witnessed what many, many lay people are stuck with on a regular basis. The laity have a right to a validly celebrated Mass which is reverent and faithful to the norms and rubrics given by Rome.

Is this Motu Proprio a solution? Not in and of itself, but it's one more step towards a solution. Why? We have introduced (again) the truth of continuity, of one Mass, and hopeful put the nail in the coffin of the "creative" mass, of the people, by the people and for the people. The Mass is the action of God through the priest for the Church. It's not our gift to Him, but His gift to us.

The Mass is not ours, but Christ's. He has entrusted it to His Church for our salvation. I don't know about you, but anything less than what Christ wants me to have is not enough. Thank you Pope Benedict for strengthening the liturgical renewal, for allowing these two expressions of the same Mass to coexist, and for strengthening and focusing us on the hermeneutic of continuity.

Questions and comments are welcome.

God love you!

On Saying the Tridentine Mass
Rev. Fr. James Schall, SJ

"It has been the constant concern of the Supreme Pontiffs, and up to the present time, to ensure that the Church of Christ offers a worthy worship to the Divine majesty 'to the praise and glory of His name,' and 'to the benefit of all His Holy Church.'" -- Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum, July 7, 2007.


Lo, those many years ago, Schall was ordained to the priesthood the year after John XXIII made the last revision of the Latin Missale Romanum before Vatican Council II. At the time, the pope raised waves because he dared to change the Canon to the extent of adding the name of St. Joseph to its list of those present at every Mass. Some do not even accept changes from the Pius Xth edition of the Missal. However, looking over the whole scope of the Church, including Byzantine rites, there have always been differing ways of celebrating Mass, usually including a different language and external forms. Still, in principle, it can be said that all the essential parts of the Mass--word, sacrifice, and communion--were clearly present in all the varied rites in so far as they were orthodox.

However, with the advent of the Novus Ordo in 1969, and its apparent, in practice at least, suppression of the older missal, I, along with most priests on the Roman rite, have said this Mass in the vernacular. However, in my own private Masses, I often use the Latin Novus Ordo form found in the back of the present Roman Missal. Much of the English translation of the Novus Ordo has been rather vapid, and the Latin not as elegant as that of the Tridentine Mass.

If at least three popes have reaffirmed the validity of this Novus Ordo Mass, however much it might be improved, we must assume it is within the long and orthodox tradition of the Church's worship. There are those who insist that Pius X was the last "valid" pope because of issues concerning the form of Mass. In effect, these views make subsequent popes heretical, so that, on this assumption, it is difficult to see any continuity in the actual Church. Benedict intended to address these concerns by frankly affirming that the Old Mass had never been abrogated. The Novus Ordo, however, is not a new rite, but another version of the Roman Latin rite. The bottom line is that the same Mass is always celebrated no matter what language or variety of movement so long as it is in the direct line of ancient tradition and the authority of the Church.

On September 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Benedict's Motu Proprio takes effect. Any priest can then, if he wishes or is requested, celebrate Mass in Latin according to the latest Tridentine Latin form. This permission is not to be seen as somehow taking away something from those who still prefer the vernacular, as no doubt many will prefer. While there are not a few who look upon this decree as "conservative," or "back-going," I fail to see why giving me the permission to say Mass in another language is somehow a "narrowing" of my freedom. If I say you can say Mass in any language but French, that does not expand but it narrows my liberty. The pope is not saying that anyone "must" say or attend a Tridentine Mass, bur rather that if someone wants to say or attend Mass in that form, well and good. If I can go to Mass any Sunday in Spanish, as I can, why cannot I go in Latin, which is the remote source of Spanish?

As it is, on any given Sunday or weekday, any priest, as far as I can tell, can say Mass in French, German, or Spanish if he wants to. I used to say Mass in Italian in my Roman days. In the earlier American church during periods of immigration, Mass was said in German, Polish, Spanish, or Italian. Parishes were organized to make this possible. Such churches have largely disappeared, only to be replaced by today's situation in which Masses are now said routinely in a veritable Tower of Babel number of languages. Many think they have a "right" to hear Mass in their own tongue. Some even excuse themselves from going to Mass if they are in a place where they do not know the language of the local Mass, something that is rather frequent in our tourist-oriented world.

Let's look at the issue this way. On any Sunday, in any large diocese in the United States (or Europe), any Catholic can validly go to Mass and fulfill his Sunday obligations in English, Chinese, Cantonese, Lithuanian, Polish, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Korean, Vietnamese, Caldean, Japanese, Croatian, Czech, Russian, Ukrainian, or I do not know what all. I have heard it said that in Los Angeles and other large cities, hundreds and hundreds of languages are spoken. You cannot go to the seminary in many dioceses unless you learn Spanish. My nephew was recently on a work detail in Puerto Rico. He went to Sunday Mass in Spanish, even though he does not know Spanish. As far as I know, one is not "excused" from Sunday Mass simply because he does not know the language of the Mass. Most people can figure out what is going on if the same Mass is being said before them in a language they do not know.

Indeed, paradoxically, this situation is an argument for the Latin Mass, not against it. Had the Church retained the discipline of the Latin Mass, we might have avoided this enormous multiplication of languages and the acrimonious controversies over valid translations. We wonder if all the translations in all the languages are accurate, faithful to the original Latin text. The Holy See must have to approve hundreds of different language canons, in all of which a modern language constantly changes.

Though the Holy Father does not mention this issue, it seems clear that the self-separation into different language groups has in effect broken down community, not opened it up. If you have a parish in which the 9:00 a.m. Mass is in Spanish, the 10:30 a.m. in English, and the 12:30 p.m. in Lithuanian, you really have not one community but three using the same church. If it is quite clear today that one has to "hunt" for a Mass in one's own language, it is a sign of division even though valid. Not even English is a common language of worship in this country. If we all used Latin with a tradition of seeing it related to our own language, we would in many ways have a more unified Church. Even today, a hymn like the Salve Regina, sung in Latin, is often one with which every one in all language groups is familiar.


If I go to Mass in the Tridentine form, I am not going to a different Mass from that of the Novus Ordo, no matter in what language I hear the latter Mass. I have always thought that the Vatican should publish an official Missal that everyone, no matter what language he speaks, is expected to own and which will not change, except perhaps for the addition of new saints. On one side would be the Latin and the other the vernacular, whatever it is that one speaks. Over a lifetime, if the Mass were in Latin, everyone would be used to the same service, and would be able to follow and know what it means in his own language. We would then have more common music and all know certain Latin prayers and chants. That strikes me as more genuinely universal than anything we now have.

We are rather close to breaking down into merely national churches without this injection of a more obvious unifying form of liturgical unity. One cannot argue, in principle, that a vernacular language cannot be used. It certainly has good arguments for it. But any living language turns out to be very much more unstable than we might suspect. One only has to recall the controversies about the feminization of the language to see the ambiguous effect this movement had on our reading and hearing of the liturgy.

Indeed, the whole structure of the English language was changed so that older customs, like using "Him" for God, were eliminated by not a few and "Brethren" had to be changed to "Brothers and Sisters," if not "Sisters and Brothers." Amusingly, the older tradition always did use "Ladies and Gentlemen," not "Gentlemen and Ladies," and that latter, I suspect, had origins in Christian theology. The number of words that we cannot use in our normal language, let alone in the liturgy, grows daily. This rapid change is the basis of the argument to use a stable or "dead" language, be it Latin of Slavonic or Greek. The "Thou and Thee" of the Godhead reminds us that English itself has an older more stable form. The language itself becomes a basis of its own culture, a culture common to Christians who had a common worship and doctrine that depended on their knowing how they were distinct.


In this short document, the Holy Father was mainly concerned with continuity. The reaffirmation of the Tridentine Mass in its last revision under John XXIII is an indirect way of saying that this earlier form did not somehow become "heretical" or contain anything "wrong." There is nothing wrong with preferring a Novus Ordo vernacular Mass. But that is no reason to say that the older Mass is somehow suspect. The pope even went out of his way to admonish those who do regularly choose to celebrate the older rite not to do so as if there were anything wrong with the Novus Ordo. One might say that the Tridentine form had too few readings, while the Novus Ordo has far too many ever to remember.

The replacement of the sermon for the homily on scripture has yet to prove its superiority. The faithful are in dire need of systematic teaching on doctrine. The neglect of doctrine has left generations bereft of familiarity with orthodox teaching in the Church, this all in the name of Scripture. It is not that one cannot find "doctrine" in Scripture--that is its origin--but the discipline of clear teaching is not merely or fully satisfied by scriptural commentary or reading. Catholicism includes the direct addressing of reason.


One of the things that comes up with the two ways to celebrate the same rite is the "mood" of each. Clearly, they have different "feels." The Tridentine Mass was surrounded by silence. The Blessed Sacrament was a focus within the actual church. The primary relation was between the person and the Godhead through the celebration of the one Mass, the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of Christ. Kneeling was a sign of reverence. The central feature was awe, transcendence. Everyone, especially the priest, was focused not on the community but to the East, to the source of faith, symbolized by the Sun, light, the Word, the Father. The priest's back was not "against" the people behind him. All--priest and people--were facing the same direction, to God; all were going in the same direction, none concentrating on themselves.

The understanding of community in the Tridentine Mass was that every person was actively worshipping God. He was content that his neighbor was doing the same. He was not "ignoring" the others present. All were directed to the same Godhead and realized they were. That is what formed their "community." There was time enough for fellowship later. The two are not opposed, but they are not exactly the same.

The Novus Ordo Mass focused on the priest, now called a presider or celebrant. He faced a community facing him around what usually looked like a table, not an altar. The "meal" aspect increased; the sacrifice aspect decreased. There was a familiarity. Silence was not emphasized. People shook hands, hugged, smiled, and whispered. The guitar replaced the organ. The priest was tempted to add various greetings and comments. Some even changed the wording of important parts of the Mass as if it were under their authority to do so. It is not that the Novus Ordo had to be filled with dubious exceptions. It could be done as the Church asked, and is in many places.

Cardinal Ratzinger said in The Spirit of the Liturgy that the priest was tempted to be an actor. It was easy to look upon the central altar as a stage. In several Masses I attended recently, people clapped at the music or even at the presentation of programs. What happened at the out of place "kiss of peace" often had to be seen to be believed. One had the impression of a "performance." The earlier tradition never clapped at the music. The reaction was awe. The musician himself was part of the worship. All were focused on the Godhead. Their music or part was not done for themselves. Moving music on or near the altar away from a choir loft contributed to this performance feeling.

The personality of the priest, Cardinal Ratzinger said in the same book, should decrease. It is not "his" Mass; he is a servant there to do what the Lord guides through the Church. The Mass transcended the personality of the priest. We should not have to choose what parish or Mass we go to on the basis of a calculation of the personality or talents of the priest, however fine they might be. The liberals go to liberal parishes; the conservatives to conservative ones. That is just another version of the language problem of separating people rather than uniting them.

We used to often hear Catholics or other people coming into the Church saying that there was something powerful about going to a Mass that is celebrated basically the same way now that it was two, four, nine hundred years ago. It was not only that we went to the same Mass as the Chinese or the Germans or the Spanish, but that we went to the same Mass as our ancestors. We have a statue of John Carroll, the first American Catholic bishop-ordinary, in front of our main building here at Georgetown. There is something powerful, in thinking of the Tridentine Mass, to realize that he and I say the exact same Mass that itself transcends time. The same is true if we think of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, who lived before the Tridentine formula, which was based on earlier Roman-influenced liturgies.

In conclusion, I think that the words cited from Benedict in the beginning from Summorum Pontificum strike best at what I want to say here. The concern of the Supreme Pontiffs is that the Church of Christ offers "a worthy worship to the Divine Majesty." It is offered first "to the praise and glory of His name" and secondly "to the benefit of the all His Holy Church." When he promulgated this motu proprio, this is what the Holy Father had in mind. He intended precisely to "benefit" the Church, but one can only do this if we "glorify" God as God Himself has directed us. The worship of the Father in Christ through the Spirit is not a human concoction, though appropriate to the Incarnation it has human aspects in architecture, words, music, personality, material gifts, bread and wine prior to consecration.

I would recommend two readings in connection with this issue of connecting the present and ancient tradition of the same Mass, the same liturgy. The first is the last section of Catherine Pickstock's book After Writing on the nature of the classic Roman liturgy; the second is the chapter "On Praying the Canon of the Mass," in Robert Sokolowski's Christian Faith & Human Understanding. No two readings that I know give a better sense of what is at stake in the question of the one Mass.

The Holy Father is concerned with something that is his duty, namely that all say and understand the same Mass, whatever be its language, or particular variation:

Each particular Church must concur with the universal Church, not only as
regards the doctrine of the faith and the sacramental signs, but also as regards
the usages universally accepted by uninterrupted apostolic tradition, whish must
be observed not only to avoid errors but also to transmit the integrity of the
faith, because the Church's law of prayer corresponds to her law of faith.

The latter passage Benedict cites from the "General Introduction to the Roman Missal" (2002).

What is said here, if I understand it properly, is simply that the doctrine and the expression of worship manifest, visibly and interiorly, the same form of worship of the Trinitarian God. This form is to be present in all nations and times in obedience to the mandate of Christ to "do this in memory of me." This is the form of worship that mankind could not itself formulate, but only receive. The papacy has as one of its principal tasks the integrity of this worship. This is what the pope's decree was about.