Sunday, July 29, 2007

Foolish Inconsistencies and Vain Repetitions

As a student and sometime instructor of literature, I'm rankled occasionally when I hear people excuse their flighty decisions and vascillations by saying "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, don't ya know?"

Uh, no I don't know.

These people attempt to cover their indecision or inconsistency by a false appeal to authority, namely Ralph Waldo Emerson (a dubious authority, but a very quotable one). However, this reference to Emerson's essay "Self Reliance" misses the point, in large because it's so frequently misquoted.

So what did Emerson mean when his said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines"? Did he mean that we should vascillate willy-nilly or not attempt to apply rigor to our thought and behavior? No. Quite the opposite. The point was to follow the truth where ever it leads us, to the point of abandoning those beliefs we claimed before. To cling to a position out of the desire for consistency alone is foolish. To cling to something because it is true is not.

The same sort of thought frequently infects those who attack Catholic devotions such as the Rosary as being "vain repetition." This particular phrase comes from the King James translation of Matthew 6:7:

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.


This verse is often taken to mean that we should not use repetition in prayer, or that we shouldn't use rote prayer at all. There are two problems with this perspective. The first is that what the KJV translation renders as "vain repetition," other translations render differently. For example, the Revised Standard Version translates the same verse as follows:

And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.


or Douay-Rheims

And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens. For they think that in their much speaking they may be heard.


The NIV even seems to be more in line with the Catholic translations than the KJV:

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.


So the accuracy of the translation "vain repetition" is rather sketchy. Even if it weren't, what does the phrase "vain repetitions" mean? Does it mean that all repetition is vain, or does it refer specifically to repetitions that are vain? One sense is restrictive and applies to a specific set of repetitions, while the other classifies all repetitions as vain. If nothing else, the superfluity of translations that refer to babbling or meaningless repetitions should indicate that Christ was referring not to all repetition but to repetition that is not from the heart, hence, meaningless or vain.

The devotion most commonly targeted as "vain repetition" is the Rosary. That the devotion is repetitious is undeniable. However, is it vain? Or is it unscriptural? An examination of the two dimensions of the Rosary (prayers and meditations) show that it is not unscriptural. The Lord's Prayer, of course, is included in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. While the Glory Be isn't quoted in scripture directly, the realities it reflects can certainly not be considered unscriptural.

Then what about the prayer that is most repeated in the Rosary, the Hail Mary? This prayer comes right out of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verses 28 ("Hail, full of grace!") and 42 ("Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruuit of your womb!"). The only part that is not scriptural, strictly speaking, is our request for Mary's prayers. For Catholics who believe that saints in Heaven (St. Paul's "cloud of witnesses") are living, spiritual entities, there is little difference between requesting prayers from a saint or from a friend on Earth (except that the prayers of a saint may be more efficacious, coming from one perfected in Christ). So how could reciting scripture and requesting prayers be considered a vain activity?

The other component of the Rosary, one of which most non-Catholics are unaware, is the meditation on the mysteries of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. While one of the Glorious mysteries (the Assumption) is not strictly scriptural, it is borne out in the traditions of both the Eastern and Western Church, albeit under different names. Every other mystery has some connection to an event or scene in scripture. In a very real sense, the mysteries of the Rosary are a meditation on the Gospel itself.

When done with the right intent and attention, the Rosary is quite simply one of the most scriptural and most spiritual devotions we have.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Postconciliar Chaos

Pope Benedict XVI met on Tuesday during his vacation with a group of priests and answered some of their questions. Sandro Magister has posted the Holy Father's response to a question by a priest who acknowledged some disappointment with the fruits of Vatican II to this point.

Toward the end of his eloquent response, the Holy Father comments on the so-called "Spirit of Vatican II" versus the actual conciliar documents:

And thus it seems to me that we must rediscover the great heritage of the Council, which is not a “spirit” reconstructed behind the texts, but the great conciliar texts themselves, reread today with the experiences that we have had and that have born fruit in so many movements, in so many new religious communities.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Preparing a "Worship Space" for the Extraordinary Use

Shawn Tribe at the New Liturgical Movement has a post on how a so-called "peope's altar" can be prepared for use for the extraordinary form of the Mass (the Mass of Blessed John XXIII).

The argument about the insuitability of a "Vatican II space" for the classical use Mass has always struck me as either unimaginative or simply disingenuous. Cleary, the photos in Shawn's post underscore that point.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What's Happened to Our Eucharistic Theology?

Fr. V. at Adam's Ale has a couple of interesting posts concerning how we discuss and think about the Eucharist. Part of the first post discusses the proper disposition for extraordinary ministers. The second post concerns how our liturgical music reflects our Eucharistic theology. I don't think you'll be surprised to learn that many of the hymns reflect a watered-down theology, one that doesn't highlight the true mystery of the Real Presence.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Discipline for Disciples?

I was thinking a bit more on the meaning of the term “pastoral” this morning, particularly in relation to a passage I chose for lectio divina this morning, Isaiah 57: 18–19:

I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will lead him and requite him with comfort, creating for his mourners the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near, says the Lord.


I was puzzled over these verses because of the verse preceding them: “I smote him, I hid my face and was angry; but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.” To me, the passage in its immediate context seemed to go against what I posted yesterday, at least in the sense that a pastor’s role is not solely in comforting sinners. The gist of Isaiah 57 seemed to be that wrath didn’t work, so consolation would.

But was that really the message? Yes, God desires mercy, not sacrifice, but is mercy
only given by way of soft words and “there theres?”

Then Psalm 23 popped into my mind:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.


Of course, this psalm reiterates almost everything I wrote yesterday, but I remembered something that struck some time ago and that makes sense of the passage in Isaiah: “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

The meaning here is easy to miss, particularly if you don’t know how shepherds use the rod and staff. These tools are used to guide sheep to the right or left, to prompt them to move forward, and when necessary, to get them back into line. They’re tools of guidance and discipline. What does one use the crook of the staff for? To drag a straying sheep back into the flock. What do you do with the rod when a sheep isn’t moving in the direction he or she should? You whack it on the rump with the rod to prompt compliance. A good shepherd would never beat the sheep with these tools (not that some of us couldn’t use a good beating now and then), but he knows when discipline is necessary to get us back on track.

Proverbs 13:1 underscores both the responsibility of the good child, and the foolishness of those who will not be led: “A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to a rebuke.” In the same chapter, we see that it is indeed discipline that demonstrates ones love for a child: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13: 24). Paul reminds us again in Hebrews 12: 5–8 that discipline is a sign of love, not wrath or antipathy:

And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? –“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.


The very word disciple comes from the same root as discipline. How can one call oneself a disciple if one will not heed discipline?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

What Does It Mean to be Pastoral?

Fr. Phillip Powell, O.P. has some comments on National Catholic Reporter's recent howling about the motu proprio. The name of his post is rather ironic (for reasons that will become clearer shortly): Dissenting Wolves Bleat at Their Dissenting Sheep.

What got my mental gears grinding in particular was this comment by Fr. Powell concerning the NCR's worry about the "pastoral studies" of seminarians:

Anytime you see the word “pastoral” attached to a noun—BEWARE! What this actually means most of the time is “emotive,” or “dissenting,” or “purely subjective.” The category of the “pastoral”—misused as I’ve described—has been one of the most effective soldiers in the PLRC/SAAM revolutionary army.


The word "pastor" comes from the Latin word pastorem, meaning "shepherd" (hence, the irony but utter fitness of Fr. Powell's title). The pastor is a shepherd. To be pastoral, one behaves as a shepherd. Let that sink in for a moment.

What does a shepherd do?

- Keeps the sheep within eye sight
- Protects the flock from predators
- Leads the sheep where they will be fed and watered

So a pastor's job is to keep those in his charge within he fold (the bounds of the Church's teaching), protected from danger (false teachings that lead us into spiritually dangerous places), and in an environment where we can be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, the Living Water, and the Eternal Word.

But, as Fr. Powell notes, the term typically suggests something

- emotive
- dissenting
- subjective

Essentially, "pastoral" in the progressive mind means everything that drives one out of the fold and into the world of subjective "moral" choice. It's diametrically opposed to the true role of the pastor.

Now, I doubt that all progressives believe this is what they're doing. However, when a priest takes the role of comforter and consoler over the role of moral and spiritual teacher, they're doing precisely this. They're exposing the sheep in their fold to the very dangers from which they should protect them. They're placidly holding and patting the hands of their parishioners while those in sin skip along the road to Hell.

The pastor becomes a wolf in shepherd's clothing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Question for Pre-Vatican II Catholics...

... and I mean that literally.

I was born in 1964, so I can faintly remember Latin and Greek used frequently in the liturgy (although never for the readings, homily, or eucharistic prayer). I remember that catechesis used to be much more direct and concrete, particularly concerning matters of sin and punishment. However, that's about the extent of my memories of "traditional" Catholicism. While both of my parents grew up in the 40s and 50s and attended Catholic schools through high school and undergraduate studies, they both seemed to gravitate toward the more charismatic expressions of Catholicism in the 70s. (Nonetheless, I don't recall seeing anything even in my adolescence remotely like what goes on today.)

What I've noticed when I engage people from my parents' era and a bit later is a bizarre distortion of the teachings of the Church. What I mean is that I can see the structure or formulation of certain doctrines or disciplines with absolutely no understanding of the intent or theology behind the doctrines. Let's use a most obvious example, abstention from meat on Friday.

From what I hear of it, eating meat on Friday was a mortal sin. Now, you don't need to explain that Friday abstinence was a penitential discipline and that the rules pertaining to abstinence changed. I understanding that, and personally, my wife and I adhere to the Friday abstinence because we believe it helps us in our spiritual lives. What seems to be completely lacking from the claim that "eating meat on Friday was a sin" was the reasoning. There was nothing beyond the rule: no mention of what constitutes a mortal sin, no mention of the necessity of conforming to Church law, no discussion of obedience to authority—essentially no explanation of the sinful aspects of the act, the "whatness" of the sin incurred

Once after I had begun my journey back to the faith, I had a discussion with an Eastern Orthodox fellow who had grown up attending Catholic schools. What I found fascinating were all the various "doctrines" he had been taught that he found in conflict with his own faith. With only a few exceptions, the doctrine his church taught lined up almost perfectly with current formulations of Catholic dogmas (with the exception of their doctrines on contraception and Purgatory).

Occasionally, my dad will come out with some claims that simply make me go, "WHAAAATT?"

Clearly, Catholics from my parents' era were responding to something, and clearly what they remember from their upbringing was not always positive and often not doctrinally sound (or was, at very least, theologically shallow).

So what was it, aside from the liturgy and all of the "below the waist" stuff, that people (or maybe, more accurately, progressives) from this era were reacting against? What doctrinal formulations were they actually getting, and how do those formulations differ from current, orthodox understanding? Do they actually differ?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Summorum Pontificum Database

Jacob Michael (the Lumen Gentleman) has craeted a database for those who would like to organize efforts for requesting the classical Tridentine use or the Missal of Blessed John XXIII. You can nter your name and contact information here. If you tried a few days ago and got an error message (which is what happened to me) give it another shot.

From author to another

Michael Barber notes Dominic Crossan's "recommended meditation" for the Holy Father:

Finally, I suggest this meditation for Pope Benedict—courteously, of course, as one author of a Jesus-book to another. When the People of God were on trek towards their Promised Land, they needed both a Leader and some Scouts. The Scouts went ahead and were the first to enter the Promised Land—although they did end up there on some surprising rooftops. The Scouts returned and reported what was up ahead. They had seen the future and the People followed them into it. But the Leader never made it into the Promised Land. He only glimpsed it from the peak of Pisgah and was buried in the midst of Moab.


and then takes him to task for it.

Funny thing about it is (as someone in the combox pointed out), most of the scouts never made it to the promised land either, but for completely different reasons.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Anaphora of Addai and Mari

Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting with a number of other parishioners to listens and take part in a broadcast of Catholic Answers. Jerry Usher just happened to be in the area to visit a friend and offered to do the broadcast and to share his thoughts with us on how to promote Catholic radio on our area. If you haven't met Jerry before, he's as genial in person as on air. It was a pleaser having him here.

Anyway, there was a question on the words of institution, and Tim Staples had mentioned the requirement of these words for a valid consecration. I posed a question at the very end that sort of stumped hi, I'd heard that the Assyrian Church (formerly referred to unflatteringly as Nestorian) had a eucharistic prayer that did not include the words of institution, yet was still considered validby the Holy See. I say "sort of" stumped Tim because he really didn't get the answer wrong. First, he correctly identified the church in question. (I wasn't sure it was the Assyrian Church, so referred to them as "the Church formerly known as the Nestorians.") Next, he was familiar with the controversy in question, even though he wasn't certain that the Holy See had come to the conclusion I had mentioned. He promised to get back with an answer. Since I'm only sometimes able to listen to the show, I don't know if he has or not.

However, I did shoot an email to Mike Aquilina and asked him about the matter (since he tends to know these sorts of things). Certainly enough, he shot me two articles and copies of the official curial documents confirming that the anaphora of Addai and Mari (as its known) is both an ancient eucharistic prayer and considered valid for the consecration. The same curial documents also allowed intercommunion for Chaldean Catholics who could not otherwise celebrate the eucharist.

What Mike did not mention is that he covers this very subject in his book Mass of the Early Christians on page 188. Guess he didn't want to ruin the surprise. Did I mention that Mike's the guy to go to for these kind of things?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fr. Powell throws in the Towel!

Okay, not really, but he had me going there for a second.

Fr. Powell, OP, has an excellent homily up today about a real recruitment program for vocations (and not just priestly vocations). He's not kidding about Tertullian's comment either. A program of martyrdom sorta puts Lifeteen in a different perspective, ne c'est pas? Who says todays kids want all pap and pop these days?

Blessed are you when you are hated. . .

Incoming Indignation Alert! (subsistit in)

Now he's done it! Okay, actually, THEY'VE done it (although AP doesn't seem to know the difference).

It's not surprising that the AP so badly mangles the details of reports on the Church but that they even care at all what the Curia publishes. Of course, it gives them a nice big spoon with which to stir the pot. As Mark Shea is fond of saying, deduct IQ points whenever media types talk about the Catholic Church.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has released a Document Regarding Certain Aspects of Church Doctrine. If you think the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum and its accompanying letter would cause fits among the prophets of the Spirit of Vatican II, just wait to see their reaction to this.

"A blow to ecumenism!"

"Rolling back the reforms of Vatican II!"

"A slap in the face of the faithful!"

"I nearly broke down in tears!"

.... except that this statement simply reiterates what's in both Lumen Gentium 15 and the paragraph 838 of the Catechism.

So there is yet more evidence that those who claim the rupture from tradition have either not read the documents from Vatican II or have "nuanced" them into senselessness.

Not that we should not still seek unity. We need to pray for it, for ourselves, for those who disagree with us, for those who choose to ignore the teachings of the Church and the authority of the Magisterium.

UPDATE: Thomas Peters (the American Papist) points out a lacunae in the reporting. There were actually two documents published regarding these questions. Thanks, Thomas!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Just Winging It (Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi)

I'm reading Mike Aquilina's The Mass of the Early Christians, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the early Church and liturgy. Mike He comments now and then on some of my posts, and he's pointed me to some great information on the early Church fathers (some through his excellent blog, Way of the Fathers). I really don't know why it's taken me so long to buy his books (other than the other dozen or so texts stacked by my nightstand). I finally decided to bump his books to the top of my to-read list, and I'm not in the least sorry.

I've often seen the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi translated as "the rule of prayer is the rule of belief." Mike's translation is a little different: "the law of prayer is the law of belief." His translation implies something entirely different than the former. While both indicate a norm, the former has a hint of flexibility to it. We even have aphorisms in English associated with rules: they're made to be broken, and there are exceptions to every one of them. Not so with a law. Laws are not made to be broken, and doing so has consequences.

When Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers was here in December for a conference at our parish, he pointed out that altering the words of the liturgy is altering God's word, as the words of liturgy are taken from scripture. That point hit home with me back then. However, Mike's formulation goes even further: to alter the words of the liturgy is to break the law—not just a rule or a norm. He also makes an important point concerning heresy and liturgy, reiterating what Irenaeus posited in Against Heresies:

As the law worked to build up the Catholic Church, its violation brought about the destruction of the heretics. Irenaeus noted that sectarians' missteps in doctrine often emerged as irregularities in liturgy as well. The Ebionites rejected the two natures of Jesus, divine and human, and held that Jeus was only human. So they refused to offer a mixed cup of wine and water—for the Church saw the mixed cup as a symbol of the god-man. In clear contradicton to Jesus' model and command, the Ebionites offered only water in their eucharistic chalice (Against Heresies 5.1.3). Marcion, for his part, held on to the Church's liturgy; but, in doing so, he committed himself to doctrinal inconsistency, for the Lord took bread and wine—things of creation, which Marcionite doctrine rejected as evil—and affirmed them to be his own sacred body and blood (Against Heresies 4.33.2).

The lesson of Irenaeus is clear: Those who tampered with the Church's doctrine inevitably butchered the liturgy as well. And, in doing so, they cut themselves off from the ordinary means of salvation, the sacraments instituted by Christ himself.


Of course, I can think of a number of areas where spontaneous changes in the liturgy overemphasize one aspect of Truth over another—and that is, in essence, the nature of heresy. The truths of our faith often involve parodox, and in our struggle to reconcile these, we can overemphasize one side of a paradox over the other, or even exclude the "opposing" side altogether. Here are a few:

The Church is the people/The Church is the Hierarchy
Men and women are equal/women can't be ordained
Christ was human/Christ is|was|always will be God
Mary the Blessed Mother/Mary, ever virgin

When we take only one side of any of these doctrines, we distort the teaching of the Church, and that has consequences that affect our prayer lives (as well as our proper spiritual and moral formation).

One of my biggest concerns when I go to Mass is that I will have to correct something that my daughter (or my friends as visitors) will hear the priest say. On one occasion that I invited one of my dear friends (you reading, Theri?), the priest commented that saying "Amen" when receiving the eucharist was to say "I am the body of Christ." (Yes, I was mentally banging my head on the pew with that one.)

So when priests spontaneously change the liturgy or change it after personal reflection, they're putting their own interpretation of the law or prayer over and above the law of the Church. That is an exercise of magisterial authority, but it isn't legitimate authority. We should not only be suspicious of what such alterations imply; we should question those who make them.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

AH..... (my motu proprio post)*

Nothing like sitting down ona cool summer morning with a cup of coffee in one hand, and a copy of a motu proprio in the other.

Naturally, there are comments all over concerning how this will be implemented and what the effects will be. Gerald, my early-release source for Vatican news, has more information and some analysis.

Summorum Pontificum is all Motu Proprio news, all the time. He even has a link to the reaction of the General Superior of the SSPX. I won't include that here. Suffice it to say that it's sad to see continued posturing on Fellay's part. I'm not sure what part of Latae Sententiæ he doesn't understand.

And no discussion of the MP would be complete without Fr Z's input.

As for me, I have a lawn to mow and a house to clean (and clothes to wash, et cetera, ad nauseam).

UPDATE: Fr. Z's resident song writer has a new composition just for the occasion:

Go to the altar (turn, turn, turn)
look to the East now, (turn, turn, turn)
there’s a time for every Mass now, if it’s valid.
The time for banjos and dancing is gone,
dust off the censer, and toss out the bong.
No need for hugging, we all get along
let’s keep our focus together, on Jesus.

Page through the Missal (turn, turn, turn)
remember the rubrics (turn, turn, turn)
there’s a time and a purpose for those words there Pure,
humble rev’rence is what we now lack,
just do the red words and say those in black.
When we say High Mass, there’s no need for crack,
just let your deacon and subdeacon guide you.

Now weed your library, (turn, turn, turn)
use some discernment (turn, turn, turn)
it is time now to brush up on your Latin.
Farewell to Vosko, McBrien, Hans Keung,
deep down you knew that they just peddled deung,
the 60’s are old and the Church is still young
what still subsists is a thing of great beauty.

UPDATE: Fr. Martin Fox has a great post on the potential benefits of the Holy Father's action, as well as some of the practical constraints he faces as the pastor of two parishes. I hope we see more priests who respond with this enthusiasm.

*I haven't had any comments on this post (not that comments are rolling in for the others), and I thought just maybe, maybe the title was a bit unclear.

Just maybe.