Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pope Francis - Thoughts

So many people in the blogosphere and the news have so many opinions about the newly-elected Pope Francis.  I don't have much to add in the way of information; perhaps I can offer two points to give perspective.

(1) The history of Pope Pius IX offers an example of a (at least external) transformation pre- and post-election.  Before elected pope, Pius IX had the reputation of something of a liberal; not very long into his papacy, he seemed to be a hardline doctrinaire.  I emphasize "seemed" and "reputation," but even this qualification helps make the point -- our perception of a newly elected Pope may not last very long.  Some may think that Pope Francis is not in favor of the Extraordinary Form, that his liturgical views in general fall well short of those of his predecessor, that he does not seem intent on the importance of the crisis in belief that is so prevalent in our time, etc., etc., etc.  Of these, the first is, to my knowledge, not substantiated, and the third seems to be an illegitimate inference drawn from the bald fact that Pope Francis speaks incessantly of the poor and pastoral issues (the second seems to have more weight, being drawn from observing his liturgical celebrations, including those post-conclave).  Point is: we may not really know what he thinks, so we should wait to see whether any of these three opinions turns out to be, in fact, wrong.

(2) Nevertheless, it may be that these three aforementioned opinions aren't, in fact, worthy of concern.  That is, even if they are true, that may not make much of a difference; for example, it may be that his focus will be fundamentally pastoral, so that he has no intention of altering his predecessor's attempts to rejuvenate and reform the liturgy nor of devaluing the current crisis of faith.  Perhaps he thinks that his role is to reform the Church in other ways: cleaning house, eradicating hypocrisy, preaching the Gospel in action (and, if necessary, in word).  And perhaps that is his role, following, as he does, 2 predecessors who were certainly "teaching Popes."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Organic Development of the Roman Liturgy

There's lots of talk about the Roman liturgy developing organically rather than being created "on the spot." We know what "being created on the spot" looks like: the Novus Ordo is the prime example of that. But what exactly would organic development of the Roman Rite look like?

In the East, development of the liturgy is nearly an oxymoron. In the West there has been development of the liturgy, but this occurred during eras when control of the liturgy was much less centralized than it currently is now. Until St. Pius V's Quo Primum, there was an abundance of local liturgies, liturgies whose overseer was the local bishop, not the Pope. Since Quo Primum, Rome has had direct control over all Western liturgy, right? So how is development possible EXCEPT from above (i.e., except by decree from Rome), in which case it would not seem to be organic development?

Put more concretely, how will the Extraordinary Form develop "organically" if you are required to follow the rubrics exactly? Wouldn't "organic development" always be considered abuse -- whether it's adding or removing words, or adding or removing gestures, etc.?


Monday, May 16, 2011

Benedict XVI on Liturgy: Old Mass and New Mass

There is a fascinating news piece on CNS about Pope Benedict's intentions vis-a-vis the liturgy. But this is not like the usual story, not just a concatenation of a particular expert's opinions about what the Pope is doing. This is from a top Curial official's remarks at the "Summorum Pontificum" conference in Rome.

This puts Summorum Pontificum in its proper context, as the mere beginning of a new liturgical movement.

Pope's "Reform of the Reform"

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Plug for a Worthy Cause

In your spare time, please take a look at the following website:

The Walsingham Society is a newly-founded, academic institute dedicated to scholarship and education in the major disciplines of the humanities -- theology, philosophy, and literature -- and in culture and the arts.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What, Then, Does "Dialogue" Mean?

I suppose many of us have heard of the recent clarification issued by the doctrine committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops with regard to the document "Reflections on Covenant and Mission." This document, while not an official document of the USCCB, was written by Jewish and Catholic leaders involved in interfaith dialogue, the Catholic leaders being advisors to the USCCB's Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. This new clarification from the USCCB states that this document "contains some statements that are insufficiently precise and potentially misleading," principally those statements dealing with evangelization and the Jewish people. In short, this document presented a "diminished notion of evangelization" in lacking any affirmation of the central role of evangelization in the Church's mission. Allow me to quote at length two passages:

Reflections on Covenant and Mission maintains that a definition of evangelization as the
"invitation to a commitment of faith in Jesus Christ and to entry through baptism into the
community of believers which is the Church" is a "very narrow construal" of her mission.8 In its effort to present a broader and fuller conception of evangelization, however, the document
develops a vision of it in which the core elements of proclamation and invitation to life in Christ seem virtually to disappear. For example, Reflections on Covenant and Mission proposes interreligious dialogue as a form of evangelization that is "a mutually enriching sharing of gifts devoid of any intention whatsoever to invite the dialogue partner to baptism." Though Christian participation in interreligious dialogue would not normally include an explicit invitation to baptism and entrance into the Church, the Christian dialogue partner is always giving witness to the following of Christ, to which all are implicitly invited.
. . . . . . .
Reflections on Covenant and Mission, however, renders even the possibility of individual
conversion doubtful by a further statement that implies it is generally not good for Jews to
convert, nor for Catholics to do anything that might lead Jews to conversion because it threatens to eliminate "the distinctive Jewish witness": "Their [the Jewish people's] witness to the kingdom, which did not originate with the Church's experience of Christ crucified and raised, must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity." Some caution should be introduced here, since this line of reasoning could lead some to conclude mistakenly that Jews have an obligation not to become Christian and that the Church has a corresponding obligation not to baptize Jews.

This clarification has aroused outcries from major Jewish organizations, who stated that this clarification is "antithetical to the very essence of Jewish-Christian dialogue as we have understood it," because if the goal of dialogue is to convert Jews, then dialogue becomes "untenable." The ADL says that this clarification represents "an objectionable understanding of Jewish-Catholic relations," principally because it reaffirms the obligation of Jews to convert and of the Church to baptize Jews. According to the ADL, even merely using dialogue as a means to invite Jews to Christian baptism is "unacceptable," because it "would foster mistrust between Jews and Catholics and undermine years of work building a positive relationship based on mutual trust and respect of our differences in faith."

I ask: What, then, does "dialogue" mean? Is it merely presenting our religious views to each other? In other words, is it merely clarificatory? Under what impression have the ADL and the Jewish groups involved in interfaith dialogue been all these years? It is quite clear that at least the ADL has assumed that such dialogue has as its purpose the fighting of anti-Semitism and recognition of the validity of the Jewish religion (in other words, the aim of such dialogue is that of the ADL itself).

It seems obvious to me that this entire episode -- the original Jewish-Catholic document "Reflections," the recent clarification by the USCCB, and the reaction of the major Jewish groups -- reveals something fundamentally important: we have not conveyed to our "partners in dialogue" what true ecumenism is. True ecumenism cannot take place outside the Church's mission to evangelize, and therefore it is part and parcel of evangelization. I would venture to say that true ecumenism is always evangelization, properly, appropriately, charitably done.

The more fundamental problem here can easily go unnoticed, but allow me to draw it out. The divergence here between the true Catholic understanding of dialogue and ecumenism and the understanding of the ADL and the other protesting Jewish groups is radical and perhaps insurmountable: it is a problem of the order of goods. The Catholic understanding presupposes that the greatest good is life with God forever, and that therefore no earthly good (including [false] "tolerance" and "respect") ought to curtail the Church's evangelizing of all peoples. Dialogue with non-Catholics, then, always looks to this greatest good, as a precept of charity. For the ADL and the other protesting Jewish groups, it seems that the fundamental goal of dialogue is not helping each other along the way to eternal salvation, but rather an understanding of and respect for each other's views, to which evangelizing is, according to them, directly contrary. Tolerance, understanding, and respect are the end of dialogue, not one's eternal salvation. Now whatever their reasons for this different understanding (and we, as Catholics, must understand that this difference is to be expected), this very divergence tends to vitiate interfaith dialogue itself, for the ultimate end of dialogue for us -- evangelization, witness to Christ -- runs counter to the end of dialogue as they construe it. Even if the dialogue is explicitly circumscribed within very narrow limits -- say, the Church in India is in dialogue with leaders of the Hindi religion for the sake of promoting those goods that both religions hold in common -- even within these limits, dialogue always is evangelical: as Catholics we must always witness to Christ. And the very fact that we must always so witness will irk those for whom religion is not a matter of eternal salvation and damnation and those for whom religion is merely subjective.

A final thought: this episode bears witness to the "Emperor's new clothes" character of ecumenism as it is often trumpeted and practiced, at least in this country. Where have we gotten, if our "partners in dialogue" don't even recognize WHY we are in dialogue with them?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Snippets from St. Thomas and his Commentators

After a long hiatus, a very interesting set of statements from St. Thomas Aquinas concerning property, the rich and the poor, and natural law:

The Lord requires us to give to the poor not only the tenth part, but all of our superfluous wealth.

- St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, quoted in St. Robert Bellarmine's work "The Art of Dying Well," trans. John Dalton, p. 26

Things which are of human right cannot derogate from natural right or Divine right. Now according to the natural order established by Divine Providence, inferior things are ordained for the purpose of succoring man's needs by their means. Wherefore the division and appropriation of things which are based on human law, do not preclude the fact that man's needs have to be remedied by means of these very things. Hence whatever certain people have in superabundance is due, by natural law, to the purpose of succoring the poor. For this reason Ambrose [Loc. cit., 2, Objection 3] says, and his words are embodied in the Decretals (Dist. xlvii, can. Sicut ii): "It is the hungry man's bread that you withhold, the naked man's cloak that you store away, the money that you bury in the earth is the price of the poor man's ransom and freedom."
Since, however, there are many who are in need, while it is impossible for all to be succored by means of the same thing, each one is entrusted with the stewardship of his own things, so that out of them he may come to the aid of those who are in need. Nevertheless, if the need be so manifest and urgent, that it is evident that the present need must be remedied by whatever means be at hand (for instance when a person is in some imminent danger, and there is no other possible remedy), then it is lawful for a man to succor his own need by means of another's property, by taking it either openly or secretly: nor is this properly speaking theft or robbery.

St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, II-IIae, Question 66, article 7: "Whether it is lawful to steal through stress of need?" (emphasis mine)

In these two texts, St. Thomas does not address the role of government in the distribution of wealth, so one could argue, from these texts alone, that St. Thomas is speaking only of moral, not legal obligation, and that therefore this has no bearing on the role of government. This would be further enforced by St. Thomas' own distinction between what is legally due and what is morally due.

However, the greatest of Thomistic commentators, Cardinal Cajetan, glosses St. Thomas' discussion of covetousness in these words:

Now what a ruler can do in virtue of his office, so that justice may be served in the matter of riches, is to take from someone who is unwilling to dispense from what is superfluous for life or state, and to distribute it to the poor. In this way he just takes away the dispensation power of the rich man to whom the wealth has been entrusted because he is not worthy. For according to the teaching of the saints, the riches that are superfluous do not belong to the rich man as his own but rather to the one appointed by God as dispenser, so that he can have the merit of a good dispensation.

- Cardinal Cajetan, "Commentary on the Summa Theologica," vol. 6, II-II, 118.3, quoted in

There is a substantial corpus of works from the 13th - 16th centuries, written by Catholic scholars (many of them Thomists) on the nature and role of money and property, the right to property, and the problem of the poor. Would that these works were made more widely available!

Anyway, there is room for questioning the general (neo-) conservative position on the role of government vis-a-vis private property, viz., that the redistribution of wealth is nothing short of socialism and therefore intrinsically opprobrious. Is this position indeed Catholic? Is it Christian?

I invite your thoughts and comments.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Archbishop Burke on Canon 915: Communion and Politicians

Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, interviewed Archbishop Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and thereby the Church's foremost canon lawyer, on Canon 915. The interview was shown today, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Here is the transcript of that interview.

Archbishop Burke makes some very pointed remarks. One example:

"And so I would encourage the faithful when they are scandalized by the giving of Holy Communion to persons [who] are publicly and obstinately in sin, that they go to their pastors, whether it’s their parish priest or to their bishop, to insist that this scandal stop. Because, it is weakening the faith of everyone. It’s giving the impression that it must be morally correct to support procured abortion, in at least in some circumstances, if not also generally. So they need to insist that their parish priest and the bishops, and for the rest…to my brother bishops and brother priests…simply to say: the service of the Church in the world today has to begin first and foremost with the protection of the life of those who are the most defenseless and the most innocent, namely the unborn . . ."