Monday, December 23, 2002

Apologetic Apology

I am sorry we have done such a poor job teaching our children to defend our Catholic faith. One of our most devout parishioners recently told me her daughter had left the church and became a Presbyterian because she just couldn�t accept some of the teachings of the Catholic Church. She went on to say that two other children of another devout Catholic couple have done the same thing. Is this the result of poor catechesis? Should we blame the parents?

We do a lousy job of teaching our faith. One reason is that the majority of those doing the teaching do not understand the faith themselves. When it comes to faith and morals, many eventually come to the conclusion that their conscience must be the ultimate guide. They know what the church teaches, but think dissent is acceptable in certain controversial areas. They become cafeteria Catholics, picking and choosing what doctrines they will accept and which they will reject. In some cases, they will find other denominations that seem more compatible with their personal beliefs and leave the Catholic faith altogether.

One way to combat dissent would be to instruct all Catholics in basic apologetics. Unfortunately, most Catholics do not even understand what it means. A Catholic apologist is one who defends the Catholic faith. When someone offers a dissenting opinion of church doctrine, a Catholic apologist defends the church�s position. Defending the Church�s position in matters of faith and morals is an easy position to defend because in matters of faith and morals, the church is always right.

So, what should you say when your son or daughter comes to you and says, �Mom and Dad, I�ve given this much thought, and I�m leaving the Catholic Church�? First of all, ask why. There can be a myriad of reasons, but most of them will fall into certain categories, and nearly all of them will eventually boil down to questioning church authority. We need to help them understand the implications of rejecting the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.

Most Christians who leave the church for another denomination will select a Sola Scriptura or Bible-only faith. The Catholic Church is a stable, three-legged stool. We have the original oral teaching, sometimes called Apostolic Tradition, handed down from generation to generation. (For the first Christians, that was all they had.) The New Testament had not been written yet. We have the Bible, the inspired Word of God in written form. And, we have the Magisterium, the Pope in union with the Bishops, speaking infallibly in matters of faith and morals. These three entities form a solid foundation for the formation of our Catholic Faith.

When one rejects the teaching authority of the Pope and the Bishops, and also rejects Apostolic Tradition because they view its origin as the Pope and the Bishops rather than the Apostles, who by the way WERE the first Pope and Bishops, then all that is left is the Bible alone. This is where we get the idea of a Sola Scriptura faith. Most non-Catholic Christian faiths believe in some form of Sola Scriptura, a one-legged stool stabilized only by the legs of the interpreter who sits upon it.

So what�s the problem with that? The problems are many. First of all, we have to ask the Bible-only Christian where that Bible, the sole basis for their faith, came from. Throughout the first four centuries of Christianity, many early writings claimed to be inspired by God. As one might expect, many documents were universally accepted, many universally rejected, and many were disputed. At the Councils of Hippo and Carthage, bishops of the Catholic Church determined which of the early Christian writings were inspired by God. Without the inerrant teaching authority of the Church, how does one know the Epistle of James is inspired while the Epistle of Barnabas is not? How does one know the Gospel of John is inspired while the Gospel of Thomas is not? If one does not believe that Jesus gave inerrant teaching authority to His Church, one must be able to prove the inerrancy of Scripture apart from the Church. Trying to do so is a little like trying to build a perpetual motion machine. Some may claim they can do it, but it doesn�t really work.

Some try to get around it by claiming the Church had inerrant teaching authority at the time, but later lost it. Many of those making that claim will also reject infant baptism, but one can find evidence that the Catholic Church was baptizing infants at the time of the Council of Carthage in 253 AD, some 150 years before the Bible was finalized. If infant baptism is an error, then the Church was already teaching error before they determined the content of the Bible. The ultimate irony is when someone tries to use the Bible to prove the Catholic Church teaches in error. Without the inerrant teaching authority of the Magisterium, there is no guarantee of the inerrancy of Scripture.

Oh, but what about Galileo and all the other times the church has had to apologize for its errors? How can we claim the Church as an inerrant teacher when we know it makes errors? One must understand that Church inerrancy, more commonly called papal infallibility, extends only to matters of faith and morality � not astronomy, nor mathematics, nor anything else. Furthermore, only dogmatic decrees issued ex cathedra or from the chair, are considered to be infallible. For example, Pope Honorius is accused of holding heretical opinions, but he did not declare these positions ex cathedra. They were never official church teaching.

But isn�t this infallibility thing self-proclaimed? Where does this authority to speak for God come from? In Matthew 16:13-19, Jesus tells Peter that He will give him the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and says, �Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.� In Luke 10:16, He says, �He who listens to you, listens to me, and he who rejects you rejects me.� In John 16:12-13, He promises to guide the Church into all truth, and the Bible calls the Church �the pillar and foundation of truth� in 1 Tim 3:15. The authority to speak for God is not self-proclaimed. It comes from Christ Himself. Christ bestows this authority to the Apostles and their successors, the Pope and bishops.

Those who are paying attention may think I just made a circular argument. I made the case for the Church�s divinely bestowed authority by citing the Bible after claiming that we can�t rely on the inerrancy of the Bible without the authority of the Church. To avoid a circular argument, we need to first scrutinize the early Christian writings, not as divinely inspired Scripture, but rather as we would any other documents of antiquity, verifying authorship, historical accuracy, manuscript authenticity, etc. After doing so, you can reasonably conclude as a historical fact that a man named Jesus lived, claimed to be God, worked miracles and rose from the dead as evidence of His divinity, established a Church with Peter as prime minister, gave him authority to bind and loose, and promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide it to truth. After you establish the authority of the Church, then it is THAT Church which declares which of the early Christian writings are God-breathed and should be included in the Bible.

Even if one could prove the inspiration of Scripture without the authority of the Catholic Church, problems with the Bible-only approach to faith are still many. Without an authority, the Bible must be self-interpreted. What happens when people reach conflicting conclusions? Is infant Baptism desirable or an abomination? Is divorce acceptable or not? What about things that didn�t even exist when the Bible was written, such as birth control pills or cloning? Convert and apologist, Ken Howell, refers to this as the Protestant dilemma. When two Sola Scriptura Christians disagree on Biblical interpretation, they must either compromise their faith to maintain unity or they must split. By some estimations, there are now more than 20,000 different Protestant denominations, each teaching their own personal interpretation of Scripture. Many of these fractures were the result of conflicting doctrines derived from differing interpretations of Scripture.

Can�t we just let our consciences be our guides in all of these matters? The answer is . . . yes and no. Certainly our consciences will be the ultimate guide; however, we have a moral obligation to inform our consciences. We are not free to blindly decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. We must seek the truth and act accordingly. Knowing that the teaching authority of the Church comes directly from Christ Himself, one cannot justify a personal belief which is in conflict with Church teaching. (Remember Luke 10:16.) We cannot be �cafeteria Christians�, picking and choosing which teachings we want to obey. We must actively seek the truth.

I deeply regret the fact that many Catholics do not have a basic understanding of these facts so they could easily and confidently refute attacks upon the Church. Is the Church perfect? Actually, yes! But, those that make up the Church are not. Catholics, including the Pope and Bishops, are sinners. Yet even in times of scandal, we are still obligated to obey the Church, just as Christ told his disciples to obey the Scribes and the Pharisees, but not to follow their example. (Matt 23: 1-3) Sure it�s tough sometimes, but Christ promised us that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. It's our haven unto heaven. It�s the safest place we can be.

Saturday, November 30, 2002

Oh Those Painful Joints

Throughout his pontificate, Pope John Paul II has attempted to build ecumenical bridges between the Church and other faiths. He has encouraged dialogue among Catholics, Jews, Lutherans, Evangelical Protestants, Greek Orthodox and others in the interest of overcoming the divisions that separate us. All of this is good, no doubt. Discussion fosters understanding, and we should all be in search of truth. What I don�t understand, however, is the current conventional wisdom that each dialogue must culminate in a �Joint Statement.�

A joint statement is what�s left after everything we don�t agree on is stripped away. I can appreciate the benefit of searching for common ground in dialogue with an adversary. It can make for a much more pleasant conversation. Most Christians, at least, share a belief in a God-inspired Bible. There is common a ground and a good base for discussion. But Christian theological interpretation can be extremely diverse. In hammering out the joint statement, I suspect much time is wasted determining how much each side can bend without breaking. The result is often a long sentence that dances awkwardly around the critical issues. In the end, what has been gained?

In 1999, Lutherans and Catholics issued a joint statement attempting to find common ground in the topic of justification, a major area of disagreement since the Protestant revolt. Lutherans believe we are justified by faith alone. Catholics believe we are justified by grace alone, which we gain through faith and good works. The joint statement says, �By grace alone, in faith in Christ�s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.� Both Lutherans and Catholics can speak this sentence without choking. Does that mean both faiths now teach the same doctrine on justification? Not really.

Of course, joint statements can serve useful purposes when issued by diverse groups seeking a common goal. The problem occurs when the joint statement IS the common goal. If true Christian unity is the ultimate objective, we must go beyond mere discovery of commonalities. Rather, let us expose what causes our division.

What makes progress so difficult in such discussion is that compromise is generally not an option. When truth is at stake, there can be no compromise. Truth is the goal. If one has it, one shouldn�t try to change it. When we engage our separated brothers on the hot topics (the Real Presence, infant baptism, justification, Marian doctrines, and so forth), we have to be ready to go toe-to-toe. That is not to say we should engage in battle. Peter, our first Pope, (yeah I know, that�s another hot topic!) said, �Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence . . . .�(1 Peter 3:15 NAB).

Our best hope for unity is to keep talking as Peter would have us do, but we must go beyond the joint statement to serious debate. The one who wins the debate, however, is not necessarily the one with the correct answer. We have to be well prepared. This requires education, study, persistence, and prayer. Unfortunately, some Catholics are not willing to put in the time. Their knowledge of God stagnated at an elementary grade level. When confronted by those who are better educated, they can be easily led astray. The results can be tragic. More about that later.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Accidental encounter?

I went to a wake this evening. A cousin who was somewhat estranged from the family had died. I�m not exactly sure why he felt alienated, but I believe there were hard feelings when some family members were left out of a will many years ago. His wife is a devout Baptist and he left the Catholic faith for her, which probably also created some family friction. He was about 18 years older than I, so many of these things happened before I was aware.

I didn�t know him well. In fact, I can�t remember us having met in the past 40 years ago. I debated all day whether to make the 30 mile drive. At the end of the day, I had a feeling that I needed to go. My mother, who died three years ago, was a peacemaker in the family, and I knew she would be pleased if I went. So I did, not knowing for sure what kind of reception I would get. My wife and children went along, but they waited in the car while I went in. Everything went well. I was greeted warmly by his wife and children. I was glad I went. I will probably never see them again.

On the way home, we came across an accident. A car was on its side in a field and three young girls were crying on the side of road. One of the three was bleeding and in considerable pain. My wife retrieved a first aid kit from our car and we were able to stop her bleeding and comfort them until the police, ambulance and their parents arrived. I had a strange feeling that God wanted us to be the ones to find them, and thought about the circumstances that lead us to be there at that particular time. Was our encounter truly �accidental�?

In your daily prayers and especially after receiving the Holy Eucharist, ask God to make you an instrument in His hands. Ask Him to lead you and make you a leader of others, to lead them to Him through His Son and the Church His Son established. And then, be alert. Every time you meet someone in your daily encounters, know that the Holy Spirit may have brought you together for a reason. Follow your instincts. Give everyone you bump into, a smile and a bit of your time. Even the most hardened heart may see the light of Christ within you. You may be amazed where the most casual encounter may lead.

Saturday, November 16, 2002

My Altar Ego

When I was about eight years old in the 1950�s, I was fascinated by the Mass. I loved to play �church�. I had my own altar in our basement, complete with tabernacle, chalice, missal, altar cards, and cruets. My mother made vestments for me -- chasubles made from pillow cases split down the sides, veil and burse, the works. I said Tridentine Masses everyday � probably more than any real priest. Neighbor kids were my servers. They had to recite all the prayers � in Latin, of course.

I remember trying to duplicate the unleavened, pure white hosts for communion. I tried pressing white bread into flat little circles. Nobody would let me put it on their tongues after smashing it with my fingers. I remember saying Mass for my Methodist grandmother. I wonder what she thought! I really doubt that any youngsters do that today. As I look back on that time, I am trying to understand why I was so attracted to �church�.

First of all, the sanctuary in our church was very ornate at that time. There were carvings, fancy millwork, statues, and candles. It was brightly lit, and very colorful. The altar was painted a glossy white that gleamed in the array of fluorescent lights and incandescent flood lamps. Light switches all snapped loudly back then, but the lights in the church were operated by silent pushbutton switches in the sacristy. The darkened sanctuary would come to life in a crescendo of brilliance shortly before Mass was to begin.

The priest carried the veiled chalice out for each Mass, setting it on the center of the altar so the veil formed a perfect trapezoid with a cross on the front. He would remove the cloth from the burse and spread it neatly on the altar. One knew that something special was about to happen. The veil, burse, missal stand cover, and the tabernacle curtain all matched the color of the vestments for that day. I would check the curtain upon arrival to see which chasuble the priest was wearing that day, always hoping it would be red, my favorite.

The Mass was in this mysterious language called Latin. You had to get your own missal, one with colorful ribbon bookmarks, to decipher what was being said � much better than a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring. As a third grader, I had to memorize all of those Latin responses in order to be an altar boy. Some forty-five years later, they are still etched in my memory.

I was most fascinated by the tabernacle. In our church, hidden behind the small curtain was a figure of the face of Christ with eyes closed (if memory serves me correctly). Just looking at the beautiful countenance, one would not easily notice the small keyhole in the lower right corner. The figure was part of a wooden cylinder which could be smoothly rotated 360 degrees. At communion time, Father Krause would insert the key and spin the cylinder, passing more carvings of angels until an opening to the tabernacle appeared. Another white curtain inside was parted to reveal the ciborium. A similar turntable-type structure above the tabernacle displayed the cross and corpus which could be rotated to reveal the monstrance for Benediction. To a child, these seemed like secret compartments where someone would hide their most precious valuables, and in fact, that�s exactly what they were. The tabernacle is our own Ark of the Covenant.

When the sanctuary was remodeled post-Vatican II, the old tabernacle was removed � destroyed as I understand. It was replaced with a small wooden box, somewhat reminiscent of the one Senor Wences used in his ventriloquist act. Remember Pedro, the head in the box? S�awright? S�awright! I don�t mean to make light of the tabernacle. My point is that we went from something very special to something very ordinary, and much of the majesty was lost.

We show respect for a person by our behavior in that person�s presence. If we were to prepare a place for a king, we would spare no expense. In addition to paying homage to the king, our efforts would send a message to the unknowing, telling them someone very special is in our midst. We would not need to explain our regard to others. That we hold the person in the highest esteem would be readily apparent. We would wear our best clothes and be on our best behavior.

The post-Vatican II trend toward humble simplicity has had an adverse affect on reverence for the Eucharist. The tabernacle no longer looks like a place of honor, yet a king still resides inside. The constant awareness of one being in the presence the King is diminished. It�s not so much that the simple tabernacle sends a message to the unknowing of indifference, but perhaps that it sends no message at all. It no longer seems to command respect. Not surprisingly, much of the respect has been lost.

Some people no longer genuflect in front of the tabernacle. In many Catholic Churches today, the tabernacle is even difficult to find. It may located in a chapel separate from the main sanctuary. People often seem unaware of its presence or absence. They wear clothes to church that they would never wear in the presence of earthly royalty because it would be considered disrespectful. Remember when ladies always kept their heads covered in church? Some today can�t keep their navels covered. They seem to be completely unaware of the fact that Christ is physically in their midst. How much we have lost.

I wonder also whether the lack of priestly vocations today can in part be blamed on the simplified church. You often hear holiest priests say that they wanted to be a priest as long as they could remember. How many of those vocations were sparked by a boyhood fascination with a beautiful tabernacle and a play church in the basement?

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Keep Your Change

�We should move the organist and cantor up front where they can lead the people in the singing. In fact, we should get rid of the choir loft altogether so no one can sit up there.� �We should have different instruments besides the organ -- like a synthesizer or guitar. Maybe the younger people would participate more.� �We should bring the altar out into the main part of the church and place the pews in a semi-circle.� �I really like it when the servers go out into the congregation to greet the people during the �Sign of Peace�.�

All of these sentiments were expressed at our recent �Parish Project Night�. Other innovations have surfaced in parishes from time to time. We�ve heard an influx of new Eucharistic prayers and occasional improvisation in the text of the liturgy, including inclusive language. Some parishes have allowed forms of liturgical dance. Then, there is the renewed emphasis on expressing symbolism, such as moving the baptismal font to the entrance of the church to symbolize that Baptism is the point where you enter the Church, I guess.

When given an opportunity to tweak the liturgy, Catholics come up with many ideas. Some are good and some not so good. Some may sound appealing, but bring undesirable results. Some are just plain bad. Our Church has been around for 2000 years. We have two millenniums of Holy Spirit-guided insight into the workings of God. That�s a long time and it is surpassed by no other Christian community in the world. By now, one would think our form of liturgical worship would be perfected. But we continue to think we can improve it. When are liturgical changes justified and who should be making these decisions?

Theology is infinitely complex, though God Himself is a simple being, and therefore, unchangeable. No created being will ever fully understand the uncreated being, so even the most advanced theological study is always a work in progress. Within the Church itself, we have laity, deacons, priests and bishops who are all at various stages of understanding in their journey of Faith. Some bishops have spent their lives tapping the rich scholarship of those that have come before them. They are responsible for guiding the one Church established by Christ to make certain it remains pure, true, and in unity. Imagine how difficult that task must be when they have all of us theological pre-schoolers interjecting our liturgical ideas.

The unity of the Church is especially important. In what we sometimes call the �high priestly prayer� (John 17), Jesus prays to His Father as His ministry here on earth is nearing its end. Beginning about verse 11, He prays for His disciples, the first bishops of the Church, to be one as He and the Father are one. And at verse 20, He extends that desire to us. �I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. �And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.� (Jn 17: 20-23 NAB)

Clearly, Jesus wanted the members of His Church to be united as one. How do we share this unity as members of the Mystical Body of Christ? We have unity in doctrine, unity in Church government, and unity in the Liturgy. It is vitally important that this unity be maintained. It�s one of the great treasures we Catholics have. But how far do we have to go in maintaining our liturgical unity? Is it alright for our priest to change a few words in the liturgy here and there? What�s the harm in standing during the Eucharistic prayer? Other churches do it. Isn�t it nice when we all hold hands during the �Our Father�? What about moving the altar?

Paul warns the Church at Corinth of the dangers of people doing their own thing. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he says, �I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. �For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe�s people, that there are rivalries among you. �I mean each of you is saying, �I belong to Paul,� or �I belong to Apollos,� or �I belong to Kephas,� or �I belong to Christ.� �Is Christ divided? Was Paul Crucified for you? �Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? �I give thanks [to God] that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say you were baptized in my name.� (1 Cor 1:10-15 NAB)

If fissures were already occurring when the Church was in its infancy, how can we possibly expect to maintain our liturgical unity today with more than a billion Catholics from a multitude of cultures? I can�t help but think of people today who might say, �I follow Father John. He�s more liberal.� Or, �I follow Father Mark. He�s more conservative.� Or, �I follow Father Fleger. He�s not afraid to stand up to the Archbishop.� Or, �I follow Father Wathen. He doesn�t believe in the Novus Ordo Mass.�

A priest doesn�t have to be a heretic to cause a division. Every time a priest allows his personality to manifest itself in the Mass, he produces a situation where parishioners will either like, dislike, or be indifferent to his innovation. The change may be harmless or even an enhancement, but it creates the potential for causing a hairline crack. Am I saying priests should behave like robots made on an assembly line? Of course not. Obviously, personalities always come into play, especially in homiletic style, and people will develop preferences. Care should be taken, however, to ensure that everything that happens during the essential parts of the Mass is proper and universal. With so many Catholics from so many cultures, how is this possible?

In terms of a governing body, we have the continuous lineage of popes, from Peter to John Paul II, in union with the bishops, forming the Magisterium which we rely upon for the development of doctrine which defines our Faith. Without the Magisterium to guard the deposit of Faith, we are relegated to self interpretation of the Scriptures, and divisions are inevitable. We have a Catechism to serve as a guide for our behavior in the Faith. And to maintain Liturgical unity, the Church gives us the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), an instruction book for worship.

The Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass is at the core of our Faith. It unites us as Catholics with the Body of Christ. It is of utmost importance that a Catholic can walk into any Mass anywhere in the world, and recognize immediately what is happening on the altar. We should be able to focus our attention on Our Lord without much worry about posture or conforming to local custom. When local customs are an option, the GIRM specifies such allowances. To maintain liturgical unity, it is essential each priest in every parish in the world maintains conformity with the GIRM.

As I stated in an earlier message, a tendency to tinker with the form and posture of the Mass has existed since Vatican II. Some priests, even those conservatively orthodox, will occasionally improvise language or liturgical structure. For those of us who have studied the GIRM, it is probably impossible to attend any Mass without spotting some form of liturgical abuse. Is this a problem? Well, it can be.

Language is delicate. The most subtle change can affect meaning. Even without changing words, the message can be altered merely by varying vocal inflection. I recently saw a demonstration using the text, �I never said you stole money.� If you say that six word sentence six times, each time placing emphasis on a different word, you convey six different ideas. When wording in a text is changed or improvised, a shift of the original idea being expressed is almost inevitable.

In the universal church, we also encounter the problems of translation. Church documents are issued in Latin and then have to be translated into the vernacular. This may not sound like a difficult problem, but it is. You cannot take a Latin to English dictionary and translate the document word for word. The goal is to convey the meaning of a thought or idea. My copy of the Catechism is filled with revisions that came out later to clarify meanings not conveyed ideally in the first printing.

If every priest were allowed to improvise his own language, it is almost certain that subtle changes in meaning would occur. If every church were allowed to improvise its own liturgical form, new ideas would spread from church to church. In the worst case, parts of the Mass could eventually become unrecognizable. In the interest of maintaining the unity that Christ desired, the rubrics of the Mass are quite specific in terms of language and form. Priests should recognize their responsibility in maintaining conformity and fight the well-intended temptation to vary from the text, even if in doing so, he elevates the spirituality of the moment. As Paul said to the Corinthians, �For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.� (1 Cor 1: 17 NAB) If the gospel is inspired by God, and the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, why would anyone be so presumptuous to think they can somehow add to the Sacrifice of the Mass?

While many of these little liturgical innovations may go unnoticed by most of the congregation, they can be a distraction to those familiar with the rubrics. Violations of the GIRM are described as illicit, but do not render the Mass invalid unless they are severe. At most every Mass, you will hear one of four Eucharistic prayers including the Roman Canon, the only Eucharistic prayer allowed until 1965. There are actually ten approved Eucharistic prayers in the United States. Some are reserved for special circumstances and are seldom used. Two are for Masses of Reconciliation, three for children�s Masses, and one rarity called the Swiss Canon. Regardless of which approved prayer is used, the celebrant should stick to the exact text.

An interesting article titled The Mystery of the Swiss Synod Eucharistic Prayer by Father Jerry Pokorsky and Helen Hull Hitchcock, addresses problems with the proliferation of Eucharistic prayers in the Church. The article was published by the Adoremus Bulletin in 1997.

The authors make the point that a multiplicity of optional language does not necessarily make it possible to serve the pastoral needs of the parish better. They go on to explain that the word �canon� comes from the Greek word meaning rule, measure or standard, and because the canon is the heart of the Mass, the maxim, lex orandi, lex credendi, (the law of prayer is the law of belief) applies to it. In effect then, changing the canon is changing the rule or standard of worship. So what�s wrong with changing a rule once in a while?

The authors state the following: �St. Thomas Aquinas warns that even when a human law needs to be changed, there is danger of reducing the binding power of the law as a consequence of the change. Hence, laws should not be changed unless the existing law is �clearly unjust� or its observance �extremely harmful�.� �Consequently, when a law is changed, the binding power of the laws is diminished, in so far as custom is abolished.�

We have seen this happen many times. For example, Catholics were bound to refrain from eating meat on Fridays under pain of mortal sin prior to Vatican II. No good practicing Catholic would ever eat meat on a Friday. But when the bishops decided to allow us to substitute some other form of penance on Fridays, the binding power of the rule diminished immensely. Few Catholics today even think about the necessity of doing penance every Friday.

Catholics used to receive Holy Communion kneeling at a railing, hands covered by a cloth so as to prevent accidentally touching the Eucharist unworthily, and with a paten held under our chins to catch any crumbs that might fall. With the rule came great reverence for the Sacred Host. When the rule was changed to allow receiving Body of Christ in-hand while standing, the binding power diminished and the reverence was lost. Now we seldom see the paten used. Our parish recently held an outdoor Mass using homemade bread that was very �crumby�. The meticulous cleaning of the Eucharistic vessels that used to be done at the altar immediately after communion is now often set aside until later, and sometimes delegated to an extraordinary minister, also an abuse.

The authors, Hitchcock and Fr. Pokorsky, go on to speculate about whether liturgical changes may contribute to the breakdown of the rule of faith. While reluctant to make that leap, they do see a correlation between the �breakdown in the �law of belief� and the evident breakdown of the �law of prayer��. They point out that Pope John Paul II evidently believes there is a connection, indicated by his message to several American bishops reminding them of their responsibility to make available �exact and appropriate translations of the official liturgical books so that, . . . they may be an instrument and guarantee of a genuine sharing in the mystery of Christ and the Church: lex orandi, lex credendi . . .The arduous task of translation must guard the full doctrinal integrity and, according to the genius of each language, the beauty of the original texts.�

If those so far advanced from us on the journey of Faith teach the importance of textual accuracy, how could anyone less advanced feel qualified to make modifications? When we get the urge to change an established practice, we should heed the words of St. Thomas Aquinas and resist unless the continued observance is �clearly unjust� or �extremely harmful�. What about the suggestions made at our Parish Project Night? As far as I�m concerned, in most cases, they can just keep their change.

Friday, November 08, 2002

Psycho Babel

Our new pastor recently held a �Project Night� where members of the congregation were invited to share their ideas for the future of our parish. This was a new experience for most of us. Our previous pastor of ten years maintained tight control over the Parish Council. Members were not permitted to discuss topics that were not on his agenda.
Input from the parishioners was more than discouraged. Parishioners were not permitted to attend council meetings.

Being ruled with an iron fist did not sit well with many. Council members were assigned duties, but were allowed little input. Most couldn�t wait for their terms to end. Some members of the congregation began attending a neighboring parish. And a few left the Church altogether.

Some organized a group to meet with the bishop in the hopes of getting a new priest for our parish. Others, however, respected his stern pastoral guidance and were obedient to his direction. The parish became somewhat divided and eventually the bishop decided to make a change.

The new pastor is quite the opposite. I had seen our old pastor without his collar only once in ten years, and that was when I knocked on his door unexpectedly. I haven�t seen our new priest wear his collar yet. I have seen him in a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and one with a picture of the Bates Motel. (Norman Bates and the priesthood � now there�s a scary combination!)

After ten years of suppression, one might expect a large turnout for an event such as Project Night, but only ten people came, the youngest being 50 years old. Father had planned to divide us into three groups. One would discuss the spiritual needs of the parish, another the corporal needs, and the third, the physical needs. Instead, we remained together and spent time on each topic.

The first person to speak remarked that we could not possibly meet the corporal and physical needs of the parish until we get our Spiritual lives in order. Last month, Father announced we would have Holy Hour on the first Thursday of each month -- a monthly opportunity for Eucharistic Adoration, prayer and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Six people came to the first one.

A number of ways to increase Spiritual awareness were then discussed. Someone suggested 40 Hours Devotions. Before Vatican II, 40 Hours was an annual event in our church with Eucharistic Adoration, prayer and guest speakers. Always the pessimist, I wondered how many would attend 40 Hours Devotions if only six people were willing to come for one hour. I contend that we need to get people excited about their faith before such events will have an impact.

Not much was said about the corporal needs of our parish. It was generally agreed that we need to be more aware of the plight of the elderly and poor, and perhaps share information and resources with other churches in the community.

When the topic turned to the physical needs, the ideas began to flow. We need a wheelchair ramp. We need greeters. Move the organ to the front of the church. Replace the organ with a synthesizer. Remove the choir loft so people who are not in the choir can�t sit there. (Obviously, he didn�t want the choir sitting there either!) Bring the altar out into the church and place the pews in a semi-circle. Remove the kneelers. Whoa!

I pointed out that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says we are to kneel from the end of the Sanctus to the Great Amen, and just because some Catholic churches have removed their kneelers does not make it right. Expecting some reinforcement from our pastor, I didn�t get any. He pointed out that most European churches do not have kneelers and in fact the Apostles �reclined� at the Last Supper.

I had also come prepared with an article by a Catholic priest who argued that the semi-circle configuration is not suitable for Catholic liturgical celebrations. The author contends that the semi-circle is designed for theater and focuses attention on the celebrant. When the suggestion arose, I read an excerpt of the article to the group. My intent was only to point out that reconfigurations should not be done on a whim. Subtle environmental changes may have unforeseen influence on how people perceive the Mass. When does the focus shift away from worship and toward performance? Again, Father spoke up to question the source of this article.

Our building is approaching its centennial. It is not wheelchair accessible, and this has been a much discussed situation for many years. Parishioners had always wanted to construct a ramp, but the sixty inch rise and congested layout makes for a challenging design. The ramp was a taboo subject with the previous pastor. Doing the job right would be an expensive project benefiting few people, so it was not on his agenda. And anything not on Father�s agenda was not to be discussed.

With their previous impediment gone, the Parish Council seems determined to make access for the handicapped the top priority. I sometimes wonder whether they are acting out of concern for others or whether they just want to prove that it can be done. My apprehension comes from the realization that a ramp to a 60 inch high floor must be an absolute minimum of 60 feet long with a resting platform halfway up (to meet ADA requirements). Once you get to the landing at the top of the steps, there is a 4 inch step to the main floor. Much thought needs to go into the design. At the meeting, the announcement was made that an architect is currently designing the ramp and that it will provide access not only to the main floor of the church, but also to the basement. Now this I have to see! Personally, I am not convinced a ramp is the answer. While it may provide access for wheelchairs, it will not help the vast majority of our challenged parishioners who are not wheelchair bound, but have limited mobility. Ideally, we need a mechanical lift of some sort.

Other ideas presented at the meeting also made me uncomfortable. The sanctuary of our church has been remodeled at least twice in 90 plus years. In the early years, it was very ornate and beautifully detailed. Much of this was retained during the middle of the 20th century though some of the detail on the side altars was removed. It was during the 1970�s post-Vatican II remodeling where the entire sanctuary was demolished and replaced with an understated bland contemporary design, totally incompatible with the remaining architecture. It looks as if someone sawed off the front of the church and replaced it with a slice of a different church from another era (and denomination!)

Our church has some of the most beautiful stained-glass windows to be found. The focus at the rear of the present sanctuary is a stained-glass window of the risen Christ which was added during the last remodeling. The newer window clashes with the old windows. The shapes are different; the colors are different, the artistry is different; the lines are different, the frames are different. It looks out of place. All seemed to agree that it needs to go. But what do we replace it with?

One person suggested it be replaced with another stained-glass window which has come into our possession � also with different colors, different shapes, different artist, and different lines. Someone suggested we cover the existing window with a curtain. In my opinion, the entire sanctuary needs to be rebuilt, in which case the window could be eliminated. Most everyone recognizes the problem, but remedial ideas are many.

Changes, changes, changes. We certainly have some problems that must be addressed. But, Project Night brought forth a few solutions for which there are no known problems. I�m reminded of a situation several years ago when a flu epidemic was expected to ravage the United States one particular winter. (I believe it was the infamous Swine Flu.) A massive effort was made to inoculate the entire population. When the epidemic failed to materialize, someone quipped that the vaccine was �a cure for which there is no known disease.� I�m very leery about change without reason, and I�ve come to learn St. Thomas Aquinas may agree. More about that later.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Amidst a Dumber Knight�s Dream?
(This article contains fact, opinion, mere speculation and an apology to Shakespeare!)

Fact: The following advertisement appeared in our local weekly flier on November 6, 2002, the day after the election:


(Yes, I swear this part a fact. Somebody placed an anonymous ad stating, �only a coward would remain anonymous.� Attention, Jay Leno!) After my nearly incontinent laughter subsided, I began to wonder what prompted this diatribe. I think I may have figured it out. For a clue to the answer, read my previous Blog message of October 20th.

Speculation: My Hunch is that the ad was placed by one of the three blind Knights mentioned in the previous article.

Fact: A member of our church is inclined to send an occasional anonymous letter. I recently saw one that had been sent to a parish secretary.

Speculation: Said anonymous letter writer made the same observation I did, and used her (yes, I believe it�s a woman) modus operandi to scold said Knight. This Knight has a temper like another Knight named Bobby, and just couldn�t let it go. Instead of tossing an anonymous letter, as any sensible person would do, he had to fire back in anger.

Opinion: Even when you feel it necessary to respond to a personal attack, stop. Take a few deep breaths. Write down your response and sleep on it. Next day, read it again. If you don�t want to soften it some, sleep on it another night. Discuss it with someone you admire for their level-headedness. If you still want to send it after all that, sign your name and do it.

Fact: I disdain people who write anonymous letters. I also disdain hypocrites. A question worth pondering is, which is the greater sin: to allow a hypocrite to go unchallenged or to challenge him from the darkness? If my speculations are correct, I�m glad the letter was sent. One person can change the world.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Knightmare on Elm Street

And speaking of the Democratic Party being in opposition to the Catholic Church when it comes to abortion, I am confounded by people who call themselves Catholic and yet support pro-choice candidates. Today, I passed the homes of three different members of our church, all Catholics, and all active members of the Knights of Columbus. All three had campaign signs in their front lawns supporting the Democratic pro-choice candidate for Congress. The Republican opponent is clearly Pro-life.

Yes, I know there are many issues in question besides abortion, but I can think of no issue more indicative of a person�s moral character. All three of these Catholics are Democrats and apparently pledge allegiance to all Democratic candidates regardless of their beliefs.

The congressional balance of power is at stake in this election. Anytime President Bush nominates a pro-life Federal Judge, the Democrats block the nomination. With this particular congressional district race too close to call, each vote for a pro-life candidate could conceivably (no pun intended) protect unborn children. Tipping the scales to the conservative side may result in a rebirth of morality in our nation during the next four years.

The Knights of Columbus webpage makes the following declaration: �In accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church, the Knights of Columbus defend human life from the moment of conception until natural death.� It�s a fundamental principle of membership in the Knights. How do these three guys reconcile their �Knighthood� with their personal actions? More importantly, how can they make their Profession of Faith each Sunday? What hypocrisy!

Sunday, October 13, 2002

Our local Catholic newspaper carried an article critical of the Democratic National Committee web page for carrying links to anti-catholic websites. The CNS story says the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked the DNC to remove Catholics for a Free Choice from their list of �Catholic� site links. Apparently, that link was the only link provided under the �Catholic� heading until the DNC was criticized in a syndicated column.

Checking the DNC site today, I found five sites listed under the �Catholic� heading. Using the Peter's Net Catholic webpage rating, I didn�t find any of them listed with �green lights�, which would indicate fidelity to the Catholic Faith. The Democratic platform seems to be completely out of step with Catholic teaching. I would think the pro-choice stance alone would be enough to prevent any Catholic from voting Democratic, at least on the national level. This is a very important election with the balance of power so closely contested.

The Democrats have done everything in their power to block President Bush�s conservative appointments of Federal Judges. Good God-fearing judicial candidates have been denied even a vote because of their anti-abortion views. This election offers us a wonderful opportunity to make huge strides toward respect for life if we can get a Republican majority in Congress.

Ironically, many Church leaders seem to be more vocal on stances favoring the Democratic Party position. Last week�s Diocesan paper stated that �Church leaders� are condemning the proposed unilateral strike on Iraq. The Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges the necessity of a �just war� under certain conditions that make it morally legitimate. One of the determining elements is whether all other means of putting an end to the damage being inflicted by the aggressor, have shown to be impractical or ineffective. Certainly that would seem to be the case here. While I respect the bishops� responsibility to speak out on moral issues, they are not necessarily privy to sufficient information to determine whether war with Iraq is a �just war�. It should also be noted that the bishops quoted in the article were not American.

In the days of strong labor unions and social reform, Catholics were often aligned with the Democratic party. Liberal ideology has now led the party into an area of moral sterility where orthodox Catholics find themselves completely alienated. I don�t see how a good Catholic can cast a vote for a pro-choice candidate. I also cringe when I hear someone proclaim to be a Catholic and pro-choice. In my view, a Catholic is someone baptized into the Faith who accepts the God-given authority of the Church and tries to live life in accordance with her teachings. In my view, Ted Kennedy, Phil Donahue, and Madonna ain�t Catholic.

Of course, one can argue that not all Republican posture is Catholic-friendly either. Being hawkish on war or favoring capital punishment can be at odds with Church teaching, but for the most part, Catholics will find themselves on higher ground morally with the GOP. Vote for Life!

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Get it?

Ok, so I�m a little nervous. I�ve never liked change and I�m pretty conservative. So when change comes, so does a certain apprehension. I attended a discussion group meeting this evening conducted by our new pastor. Only one other person showed, so there was plenty time for one-on-one (or two-on-one) conversation.

Liberal trends in the Catholic Church in America concern me. I perceive them as modern innovations welcomed by Catholics who do not really understand their faith. Some people just don�t �get it.� Unfortunately, many of these Catholics are priests and bishops. During our talk this evening, several red flags appeared. Our pastor hinted at how beautiful certain ethnic liturgical dancing can be, reasons why the altar should be brought out into the church with the congregation gathered around it, and spoke about his theories of why we are separated from our Protestant brethren.

Regarding liturgical dancing, my understanding is that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops prohibits it in US Churches. (Liturgical Dance) Personally, I feel it has no place in the Mass. It may be appropriate for other forms of religious celebration, or in places where it is a cultural custom.

Father mentioned that he didn�t understand why the Christian Churches are separated, pointing out that Christ once scolded his apostles for chastising outsiders who spoke in His name. The point seemed to be that as long as they were doing good, they should not be criticized. After all, we all worship the same Christ even if we have different ideas. He said we should emphasize what we have in common. While I don�t disagree, I believe we need to strive for truth and unity. Some times, that means taking issue with doctrinal disagreements.

I mentioned the reason we were separated was because they denied the authority of the Church. He replied by saying the even though Our Lord gave Peter the keys to the kingdom, he later gave the keys to all of the Apostles, the implication being that the authority was given to many. The conversation went off in another direction and I didn�t get a chance to pursue this topic further. But I will now!

I�m not certain to what he was referring when he said the keys were later given to all the apostles, but I would assume it was Matthew 18:18 where Christ gives all the apostles this authority to bind and loose, similar to what He gave Peter in Matthew 16:18. There are differences, however. For one, there is no mention of the keys in Matthew 18:18. The keys are given exclusively to Peter. In doing so, Jesus was most certainly referring to Isaiah 22:15-25 where the keys to the kingdom of David are taken from Elialim and given to Shebnah.

Generally in a monarchy, the King is ruler over the kingdom, but he doesn�t normally handle the day to day operations of the government. Rather that authority is delegated to a Prime Minister, in this case, Shebnah. In Isaiah 22:22, the Lord says, �I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.� (NAB) The language of Our Lord in Matthew 16:18 is almost identical. In Matthew 16:18, Peter becomes the Prime Minister of the Church. The other Apostles are given administrative authority in 18:18, but they are not given the keys.

So is the authority given to Peter in Matthew 16:18 different from what is given to all the Apostles in 18:18? Most certainly it is, although the exact difference may be debatable. The NAB footnote in 16:18 indicates that 18:18 probably refers to the power of excommunication if you take the context of entire passage into account. For the sake of this argument, however, the intent of this authority is not really relevant. These Apostles were still the first Bishops of the Church. Christ was certainly giving them authoritative power, providing evidence for magisterial authority, but only Peter was given the keys, providing evidence for his primacy.

Our pastor also spoke of the Church building itself � specifically how the entire Church is the Sanctuary rather than just the area around the altar. I believe he referred to this as the monastic approach. The modern manifestation of this idea is to move the altar out into the congregation. This trend has found its way into our Diocesan Cathedral. I don�t know whether this is good or bad or irrelevant, but maybe I can explain what disturbs me about such changes.

First, I wonder how many of these innovations are unique to the Catholic Churches in America. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which all Catholic Churches are procedurally bound to follow, specifies that the sanctuary should be clearly marked off from the body of the church either by being somewhat elevated or by its distinctive design and appointments. (GIRM). As far as moving the altar out into the congregation with the people gathered around it, this configuration derives from the Greek or Roman theater, according to the Catholic Liturgical Library webpage. (Catholic Liturgical Library) I would think it distracting to be able to look past the altar and see other worshipers looking back at me.

Secondly, it disturbs me that we seem to be under a continuous metamorphosis since Vatican II. The Church is nearly 2000 years old. Revelation ended about 90 to 100 A.D. Aside from the gradual development of doctrine, there is nothing new to report. Why have so many changes in practice taken place in the past 40 years?

Prior to Vatican II, the Mass was what some call strictly vertical worship. In other words, all attention was focused on Jesus in the Tabernacle and what was happening on the altar, with very little interaction among the worshippers themselves. We were much more reverent in the Church. Woman kept their heads covered. Everyone was quiet upon entering and leaving. We knelt to receive the Eucharist on the tongue, at a railing with a cloth covering our hands so there was no accidental unworthy contact with the Body of Christ. All of that changed after Vatican II.

It was as if the tether binding our gaze upon God had been severed, releasing our attention to wander in other directions. Our form of worship has become much more �horizontal� with an emphasis on communal interaction. I�m not saying this is all bad, but I do believe we have lost our focus on Christ, and in doing so, we now seem to be searching for something � the result being that we have to constantly tinker with form and posture. While we were previously unaware of what was going on around us, now the environment is a primary concern.

I remember one of the rare times my father, a Methodist, attended one of the old Tridentine Masses in Latin. He was astounded that the whole worship service took place with the celebrant�s back to the congregation in a language nobody could understand. Yet, this form in its own beautiful way left no doubt to its purpose for those who were properly catechized and understood what was happening.

To a certain extent, I believe the post-Vatican II reforms were a concession to those who just didn�t �get it�. Again, I�m not saying all the changes were bad, but I can see where some who did �get it� would find the Novus Ordo difficult to swallow. Father Wathen comes to mind (9-29-02 Blog). But, if he really �got it�, he would not have cut himself off from the Church. Oh the irony of it all!

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Some quiet time before God
Just got back from Holy Hour. What a refreshing way to spend some quiet time, in Eucharistic adoration, face to face with God! And yet, only six people in attendance. Besides the priest, I was the youngest at 52.

We read psalms, sang, two of us received absolution for our sins, and had Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. During Reconciliation, there was plenty of time for quiet meditation. I thought about how skewed our priorities have become. We Catholics believe Jesus is physically present on the altar. Tonight at Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church, we had an opportunity to see Him and talk for an hour. Out of several hundred parishioners, 6 took advantage. I wonder how many were home watching Survivor.

(Followup to 9/29/02)
Equal Time for the Right
And just so we can rest assured that all the in-house public dissention doesn�t come only from the left, we have Father James Wathen expounding his ultra-conservative heresy on our local radio station every Sunday morning. Presenting himself as a Catholic priest preaching the Catholic point of view, the radio broadcasts often attack the authority of the post-Vatican II Church. Wathen is a schismatic by virtue of the fact that he obeys no bishop, answering to no one but himself. That doesn�t mean every opinion he holds about the Church and Vatican II is necessarily wrong. Like Luther, however, he has abandoned the ship and is, in effect, now a Protestant.

My concern is that non-Catholics get much of their knowledge of the Church from what they read in the papers and hear on the radio. Despite some of these sources purporting to teach the Catholic position, much of this information is distorted and biased. Combine this with anti-catholic rhetoric that is often completely wrong, it�s no wonder people develop a misunderstanding of Church teaching.

Today there are many good websites that present Catholic teaching accurately. Of course, there are many more that do not. How does one know when he is getting the truth? One way is to consult a web page called Peter�s Net. (

Peter�s Net rates Catholic web pages according to their fidelity to the Catholic Faith. Most of the mainline Catholic pages are listed. If the website is given a �green light�, you can be fairly certain the site is presenting the Catholic position accurately. Be cautious if a page has a �yellow light�, and avoid any page with a �red light.� If a site is given a yellow or red light, reasons and examples are provided to justify the rating. No, it's not perfect. It too is someone's opinion. However, Peter's Net is generally a good benchmark for determining whether the material presented is orthodox.

Keep searching for the truth.

Sunday, September 29, 2002

Articles of Faith
The South Bend Tribune publishes a Faith section every Thursday. I always open the Thursday paper with trepidation, knowing that most every article about the Catholic Faith will paint the Church in a negative light. Last Thursday's paper was no exception. The front page article was about author Garry Wills' latest book called Why I am Catholic, a follow-up to his previous book, Papal Sin.

According to the article, Wills is a "noted historian and adjunct professor at Northwestern University". To be fair, I have not read either book nor do I intend to. When asked by an interviewer why he is Catholic, Wills responded, "To be part of the mystical body of Christ." Good enough answer, but then Wills goes on to point out his many perceived flaws in the Church. If the article is an accurate reflection of his book, I get the impression he believes all Church traditions have human origins, and are rooted in a desire to ensure power. How can he carry this cynical attitude into the Eucharistic Celebration each Sunday?

He talks about the development of certain traditions and names four, including eating fish on Fridays, the Latin Mass, the celibate priesthood, and the all-male priesthood. In Catholic theology, we make a distinction between tradition with a small "t", meaning a discipline or practice which is changeable, and Tradition with a capital "T", referring to Apostolic Tradition which has been handed down and is immutable. While the first three listed fall into the small "t" category, the all-male priesthood does not. I am not a theologian, but I understand the Church has formally declared that she does not have the authority to change the all-male priesthood. I believe this to be part of Church doctrine, putting it on a par with Apostolic Tradition which can never be changed. It would appear that Wills does not understand the difference.

I also find it difficult to understand why distorted Catholic authors such as Wills are given a forum at Catholic institutions. This particular article was written while he was a guest at Notre Dame. Here in the Gary Diocese, we are in the midst of an intense campaign by our Bishop to bring awareness of Cultural Diversity. Does this quest for diversity include promoting unbridled theological diversity within the Catholic Faith?

I just finished watching Steve Ray's wonderful video called Peter, Keeper of the Keys in which he points out that Christ chose Peter, an uneducated man, to lead His Church when he could have chosen a scholar. When I read authors like Wills, I understand why.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Hey, I've got my own Blog! I hope to collect my thoughts here. I've always been able to express my opinions better in written form than orally. Maybe this will help me. Most of them will center around my Catholic Faith, but I reserve the right to stray off topic from time to time. I'm not sure where this is headed, but here goes.