Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Lourdes 1: or, where have I been for the last week?

Zero and I have just returned from a 7 night stay in Lourdes, a stay intended as both a pilgirmage and a holiday. Our first day, spent in Pau, was somewhat damp to begin with and then got brighter.

In visiting the main Church in the town centre we found leaflets advertising perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the Church of St Therese, and duly walked the kilometre or two to reach the said Church. Perpetual adoration was begun in November 2009 at the request of the Bishop of the diocese (Bayonne, Lescar and Orlon - Mgr Aillet), to pray particularly for priestly vocations.

When we arrived, there was no-one present before the Lord (oops! - and this despite what appeared to be an efficient system of regularly committed adorers and substitutes). We stayed for thirty minutes, and someone arrived to take over as we left. I signed the book they had for "occasional adorers", adding the word "Angleterre" after our names.

My own photograph of the exterior of the Church is below; there are some photographs of the interior of the Church here.

This is my photograph of the Adoration Chapel, accessible from the entrance area of the Church, on the right.

The leaflet for the perpetual adoration contains the following quotation from Cardinal Tauran, who is, I believe, the President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.
Un monde sans adoration, serait un monde a la seule mesure de l'homme ... Un monde sans adoration n'est pas seulement irreligieux; c'est un monde inhumain.  [A world without adoration, that would be a world whose only measure is man ... A world without adoration is not only irreligious; it is a world that is inhuman.]
After our time of adoration, we betook ourselves to C&A. The branch in Pau is housed in a modern shopping precinct and lacked the historic grandeur of the last C&A branch we visited - in Prague, on Wenceslaus Square. The balcony of the building that now houses C&A in Prague was the balcony on which Vaclav Havel and Dubcek appeared at a key moment in the "velvet revolution".

Now, which constituted the real pilgrimage - the walk out to St Therese and back or the visit to C&A - is a moot point!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Pakistan: the demand of solidarity

As events related to the heavy rain and floods continue to unfold in Pakistan, I was reminded at Mass yesterday of the demands of solidarity with those suffering in a part of the world distant from us.

This is the latest BBC news report. This account from Aid to the Church in Need gives an idea of how areas that have not been directly affected by flooding have nevertheless been drawn into the events surrounding it. For a country whose suffering in recent times has had several causes, the addition of natural disaster is poignant. It makes a demand for solidarity that transcends the causes of the suffering.

The solidarity is needed at two levels. One level is that of the organs of the international community, the United Nations and governments of its member states. The second level is that of individuals and organisations of civil society, such as charities.

At an individual level, we are called to both prayer and practical help.

I expect that I will not be alone in having a work colleague with family in north west Pakistan, the area first affected by the rains and floods. The need for solidarity has a personal element, too.

... and the reporter retreated to his car!

The parish priest of one of my nearby parishes is a great devotee of St Therese of Lisieux. He first visited Lisieux on a pilgrimage-retreat as a seminarian 38 years ago, and hasn't missed a year since. This year was his 10th year as the spiritual leader of the retreat-pilgrimage.

In this week's parish newsletter, Father writes something of this year's pilgrimage-retreat, which took place recently. He finishes the newsletter with the following paragraph:
On the Monday when we were preparing to leave outside Westminster Cathedral for Lisieux, a BBC interviewer suddenly approached us and tried to get our comments on the Pope's visit - centering on the cost! He was obviously looking for criticism, so I just said "We love the Pope" - and the reporter retreated to his car!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

My five minutes with Pope Benedict

I would want to say thank you for:

the beauty of his teaching in the encyclicals Deus Caritas Est and Caritas in Veritate (I still have to read Spe Salvi, sorry), a teaching that at once speaks both to the intelligence and to the heart

I would want to say thank you for great moments of faith:

After the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord.

the comparison in Cologne of the Eucharistic love of Jesus to a nuclear chain reaction spreading explosively through the world: To use an image well known to us today, this is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being - the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world.

 the meeting with the ecclesial movements and new communities in St Peter's Square at Pentecost 2006

those moments at the Angelus in St Peter's Square when the students of the universities of Rome gathered, at the invitation of the Episcopal Vicar of Rome, to express their solidarity with Pope Benedict after he had been prevented from speaking at La Sapienza (I was very close to flying to Rome for the day just to be there on that Sunday - in the event I followed it over the internet)

I would want to thank him for some ordinary signs of humanity:

for his book Jesus of Nazareth - after all, theologians write books, even if their day job happens to be that of being Pope

the day he apologised to the fathers of the Synod of Bishops meeting in the Autumn after his election, because he needed to leave one hour early at the end of the day for a visit to the dentist

I would want to let Pope Benedict know how I appreciate some of his most controversial statements and speeches, because they actually address key issues for the Church and for the world:

the address at Regensburg, which aimed to discuss the relationship between faith and reason, but accidentally also raised the question of violence with regard to religious belief and, in response to the media criticism, led to a dialogue between Muslim and Catholic scholars that later resulted in a common statement

the account of religious freedom and an appropriate secularity of the state, themes which touch closely on the relationship between religious belief and the sovereignty of the state

I would want to let Pope Benedict know that:

for all the criticism from within the Church, I am one of many who try my best to live and express the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, and find it most supportive to have an articulate and clear presentation of that teaching from the Pope

I look forward to the introduction of the new, more faithful, English translations of the Missal, and a hoped-for greater sense of the sacredness of the Liturgy as a result 

I would want him to continue to teach the truths of the Catholic faith, even if they make him unpopular, and that he should be assured of my solidarity as he does so

The state of the nation

Fr Ray has drawn attention to the address that John Henry Newman gave as he received notice of his being raised to the honour of the Cardinalate: Liberalism and England. The full text can be found here, but Fr Ray has added emphasis to some of the more striking parts in his post.

As Fr Ray points out, it could be Pope Benedict. It all paints a picture of our country that is very familiar to us today.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Is this really Islamic?

I have just finished reading John W Kiser's book The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria. [Do explore this site, especially the Q and A with the author.] As well as giving an account of the life of the monks and of the Catholic community in Algeria at an exceptionally difficult time, the book also gives an account of the historical and political context. This reaches back to the war fought between the French and Algerian insurgents between 1954 and 1962, and the conflict between the Algerian army/government and a later generation of Islamist insurgents that took the lives of the monks at Tibhirine. Both conflicts were marked by brutality on all sides.

The killing of the monks is perhaps iconic of a conflict that, just going on the snippets included in John Kiser's book, was utterly barbaric in the acts of violence undertaken by all parties. After the kidnapping and killing of the monks at Tibhirine - the precise circumstances still do not appear to be clearly known - thousands of ordinary Muslim citizens wrote letters of condolence to the Catholic bishop of Algiers, Bishop Teissier. Key themes of these letters were to express the shame that the writers, as Muslims, felt that the killings had occurred under the guise of Islam; that killings like this were not true to Islam; that they were offended by the way in which these killings had besmirched their reputation as a hospitable and welcoming people.

In the same spirit as the letters of these Muslim citizens of Algeria in the face of barbarity, I ask: is it really true to Islam for a judge, acting in the name of the legal system of a modern state, to ask members of the medical profession to deliberately cut a man's spinal cord as part of a legal punishment?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Being an altar server: thoughts on an article in the Osservatore Romano

An article entitled "Un'esperienza per educare alla fede: A scuola dai chierichetti" in a recent issue of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano has given rise to the trouble with girls and sisters in the sanctuary at tigerish waters, and Girl Altar Servers Endorsed by Vatican Newspaper at Catholic Analysis. Do go and read these posts before reading on.

An experience for education in the faith: at school with the altar servers. My translation of the title of the Osservatore Romano article. It is interesting to read the full article and try to understand the sense in which the title of Catholic Analysis's post accurately represents its content. The article certainly writes approvingly of the practice of girl altar servers. The arguments presented in support of that approval are educational and catechetical .... they are not arguments arising from the nature of the liturgy or of the priesthood. I would suggest that the endorsement of girl altar servers is on educational and catechetical grounds, and not on liturgical or theological grounds. This is interesting, as it means that the Osservatore Romano article offers only a partial perspective on the subject.

Lucetta Scaraffia's article sees the role of the altar server as being one of
assisting the priest ... to assist closely, or better, to collaborate directly in the central mystery of our faith....

To be an altar server has always been seen, in fact, as a service but also as a privilege because it leads to the heart of the liturgical celebration, to the space of the altar, to direct contact with the Eucharist.
I do find attractive in the article a very strong sense of the high value to be placed upon the ministry of the altar server.

But the author's key context for understanding the role of the altar server is to place it within the wider context of catechesis or education for the faith, and the two key sentences from the article make for interesting reading. I have added bold, not for emphasis, but to connect to my comments that follow:
To be an altar server constitutes a profound and responsible way of living one's Christian identity, an experience that has no equal, that is distinctive compared to the reading of Scripture or from attending catechism classes, even though these are without doubt central moments of a Catholic education ....

The exclusion of girls from all of this [service at the altar], for the only reason that they are of the feminine sex, always weighs heavily and has signified a profound inequality at the centre of Catholic education, which luckily has been cancelled for several decades.
There seems to me an implicit suggestion in the first paragraph that being an altar server is in some way a key expression of the Christian identity of the person who serves, a key expression of their lay identity since they are not priests or deacons. It is certainly a great privilege, but I do think we need to be cautious in considering it an expression of lay Christian identity. Those boys who do not serve might well still live a Christian life in another way, so, if being an altar server is to be seen as a form of Christian identity, it must be a form that is accepted as not being universal, even among boys.

The second paragraph clearly puts the argument for girl altar servers in the context of its educational value [though the author does subsequently observe that the removal of the ban on girl altar servers ended once and for all any attribution of impurity to their sex]. I don't think the question was ever one of the exclusion of girls simply being because they were girls; it related to the sign value of the male altar server in relation to the male priest, a theological/liturgical discussion that is not pursued one way or the other in the Osservatore Romano article.

It is certainly the case that serving at the altar represents an opportunity to grow in knowledge and understanding of the liturgy, and the good pastoral priest or MC will make use of this opportunity on behalf of their servers. Allowing girls to serve at the altar does, as Lucetta Scaraffia points out, give them an access to this same educational opportunity that was previously only available to boys. It also represents an interesting situation when a priest comes to talk about vocations with his altar servers. That conversation can no longer be limited to the vocation to the ordained priesthood, but now needs to be broadened out to include the possibilities of religious life, possibilities that are open to both boys and girls. I think this would lead to an education in a wider sense of the liturgy, that is not limited to just the celebration of Mass, but which embraces a sense of the celebration of saints feast days, of the liturgical seasons and of a sense of private prayer in relation to liturgical prayer.

But serving at the altar is not the only way in which this type of closeness to and growth in knowledge of the liturgy can be achieved. Taking part in a liturgical choir is another way of doing this. At one time, I attended Mass in a parish where most of the altar servers at the family Mass on a Sunday were boys, and most of the choir were girls. Times of Eucharistic Adoration can also be used to allow children to come up close to the altar, to achieve a sense of closeness without it constituting service at the altar. These are ways equally accessible to girls and boys.

Catholic Analysis and tigerish waters offer some other thoughts around this article. As far as tigerish waters observations on suitable dress in the sanctuary is concerned - my smart sanctuary wear (I don't usually have need to wear it at all now) used to take a good hour to press before a major Solemnity, so I think the ladies are getting away lightly with their linen tabards!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010


An informal suggestion has been made, on the grounds I think that children are gaining intellectual maturity at a younger age than in the past, that they should be able to receive Holy Communion for the first time before the currently typical age of seven years.

My own diocese has a "new policy" with regard to the Sacrament of Confirmation. I haven't been able to check this on the diocesan website, and nothing seems to have been done to communicate it to the ordinary faithful. The recent change of practice in two nearby parishes has been to move the age at which the Sacrament is conferred from 14+ to 16+ (ie second year in the 6th Form). I assume therefore that the new policy involves raising the age of Confirmation in this way. There is also a greater emphasis on the young people who wish to be confirmed expressing their own interest in receiving the Sacrament, rather than being encouraged to receive it by parents or receiving it just as a matter of course.

Is it in accordance with the nature of the Sacrament to lower the usual age for receiving Holy Communion for the first time?  The expected conditions are that the person receiving the Sacrament has reached the "age of reason" (ie that they are able to understand Who it is they receive in Holy Communion), that they have been suitably prepared and that they are not impeded from receiving the Sacrament due to grave sin (first reception of the Sacrament of Penance before first Holy Communion contributes to this last). As a Sacrament of Initiation, anyone who is suitably disposed (ie who shows a basic level of good will and understanding) should be able to receive the Sacrament; a sense of life commitment, though hoped for, is not a necessary condition for the Sacrament. It might well be the case that a lower age meets these conditions.

But would it make sense to raise the age of Confirmation at the same time? Again, as a Sacrament of Initiation, Confirmation should not have a sense of life commitment set as a condition for conferring the Sacrament. It might be hoped for, but should not be defined as a necessity; a basic level of good will and understanding should, in my view, suffice. Much of the justification of a raised age for the Sacrament of Confirmation is that young people often lapse after receiving the Sacrament, that asking of them a greater commitment and offering the Sacrament at a later time, will mean that those receiving the Sacrament are less likely to lapse since they will have a greater commitment to what they are doing.

I have three comments on this idea of raising the age of Confirmation. The first is that, to be consistent, the same logic could apply to first reception of Holy Communion, and perhaps should do so with a much greater seriousness given the nature of the Sacrament as the Body and Blood of the Lord. The second comment is that, in the theological understanding of the order of the Sacraments of Initiation, the reception of Holy Communion is the completion of the three Sacraments; and so Confirmation should come before first Holy Communion (cf the practice of Salford Diocese, introduced a good number of years ago now). Thirdly, the range of vocational commitments in the life of the Church (religious life, marriage, priesthood, consecrations and promises in lay movements) are all presented as the living out in a particular way of the consecration received in Baptism and Confirmation. In other words, while some seriousness in trying to live the Christian life may be appropriate as part of the goodwill towards the Sacrament, "commitment" per se is not an expectation ahead of receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.

So, if the age for receiving first Holy Communion is going to be lowered, and one can see the case for that,  I would be in favour of lowering the age for Confirmation as well. The problem of young people leaving the practice of their faith is not one caused by the age of Confirmation; it is caused by weak catechesis and spiritual formation. If you want to keep young people practising, it is those weaknesses that need to be addressed. Tinkering with the age of Confirmation is not going to solve the problem of lapsation.

The ecumenism of holiness

ZENIT reports today on the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Taize community, and the fifth anniversary of the violent death of its founder, Br Roger. ZENIT reports Pope Benedict's message to the Taize community for the occasion, communicated by the Secretary of State:
The Pope's message proposed that from heaven, Brother Roger "still speaks to us."

"May his witness to an ecumenism of holiness inspire us in our march toward unity, and may your community continue to live and to radiate his charism, especially toward the younger generations," the message encouraged.
That "ecumenism of holiness" is an ecumenism in which we can all share through trying to live the Christian life as best we can. As I write, I recall that Pope John Paul II's encyclical Ut Unum Sint observed that martrydom presents a particular moment of unity among Christians. One can perhaps see in the death of Br Roger a witness to the "ecumenism of holiness" that is analagous to martryrdom in its strict sense.

Monday, 16 August 2010

"Unprotected sex" constitutes assault?

It was interesting to here a BBC radio news report of singer Nadja Benaissa's trial on charges of causing grievous bodily harm, and attempted grievous bodily harm. It glibly referred to "unprotected sex" and "taking precautions", by which I read (sorry, heard) it as referring to not using, or using condoms. Of course, the mortal sin in today's world is not that Ms Benaissa appears to have undertaken some "loose living", as one might say, but that she hasn't "taken precautions" whilst doing so. Now, it isn't right for others to adopt a superior, moralising tone about this, as we should all acknowledge our own sinfulness; but, on the other hand, it is not wrong to point out the re-orientation of moral values that has taken place here. I think we should reflect on the moral value of Ms Benaissa's actions here, independently of the question of the transmission of the HIV virus, rather than just ignoring the question of moral valuing that attaches to them. From the point of view of Catholic teaching, for example, they would be seen as morally wrong, a view that I think would be shared by some who are not Catholics.

I wonder what the situation would be if Ms Benaissa had used condoms, but one of her sexual partners had still become infected? I haven't yet come across a prosecution in this situation - if a reader out there knows of one, please let me know. Would it still be seen as constituting grievous bodily harm? The BBC report does question the appropriateness of prosecutions such as that of Ms Benaissa, pointing out that life expectancy after HIV/AIDS infection in developed countries is now very good. AIDS campaigners are concerned about the stigma attaching to HIV/AIDS as a result of laws and prosecutions of this kind.

One can readily see a wisdom in suggesting that the appropriate course of action of a person who is HIV positive is to remain celibate. This represents a generous choice, made in the genuine interest of the other person involved.

But that is perhaps too much for today's society, sponsored by Durex et al, to take....

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Communion under both kinds and EMHC (3): the ordinary parishioner

By way of an introduction. Libera me, citing Leutgeb, just wonders:
.... Catholicism does not rest with these people (the Tina Beatties of the world), but with the old ladies who go to Mass every day and for all I know probably have done all their lives, and I entirely agree with her : it’s not the thinkers, ultimately, who make the Church (although they may unmake it); but the honest, simple, faithful people of God.
An interesting aspect of Cardinal Newman's famous university sermon on the development of Christian doctrine is how it presents the relationship between the idea that is Christian revelation and the articulation of that revelation in specific propositions of Christian doctrine.

10. Theological dogmas are propositions expressive of the judgments which the mind forms, or the impressions which it receives, of Revealed Truth. Revelation sets before it certain supernatural facts and actions, beings and principles; these make a certain impression or image upon it; and this impression spontaneously, or even necessarily, becomes the subject of reflection on the part of the mind itself, which proceeds to investigate it, and to draw it forth in successive and distinct sentences. ....

11. Now, here I observe, first of all, that, naturally as the inward idea of divine truth, such as has been described, passes into explicit form by the activity of our reflective powers, still such an actual delineation is not essential to its genuineness and perfection. A peasant may have such a true impression, yet be unable to give any intelligible account of it, as will easily be understood.
In thinking about questions like those of the two previous posts in this series (here and here), I expect that most ordinary parishioners do not actually think about them at all, and certainly not in the detail considered in my earlier posts. Following Newman and Libera me, this does not mean that those ordinary parishioners do not have a true impression of the realities of revelation concerned. Indeed, it is often possible to seriously underestimate how strong, perceptive and faithful is the adhesion of the ordinary parishioner to their Catholic faith. One can also point out that many parish priests are "ordinary" parish priests in the same sense. I am not arguing that the ordinary parishioner should become an academic theologian.
Not thinking about things can be a strength; but it also masks a weakness. It leads to a practice of just "going along" with things. The ordinary parish priest is "going along" with what he thinks is the thing to do - taking a lead, perhaps, from those of his colleagues who are a bit more vociferous, from "the experts" or from the Catholic media; and the lay faithful then find themselves "going along" with the same things, on the basis of "what Father says". It is a kind of clericalism.
So most lay people probably go along with Communion under both kinds with little or no appreciation of its meaning.
And most lay people probably go along with lay ministers of Holy Communion thinking that it is all about lay involvement in the life of the Church.
In this context, I think it is vital to get the "sign value" of things right. The ordinary parishioner, who quite rightly thinks about things a little less than the likes of me, lives their faith through the visible signs in which it is expressed and so it is important that those signs are true, so that, in turn, what they live is also true.

At a first level, this means obedience to the legislative provisions made for the Liturgy, provisions which, by and large, seek to ensure that the "sign value" of different things is accurately presented to the faithful. At a second level, it means catechesis about the meanings of the different signs involved because the better the lay faithful know these signs the more truly they will be able to live them. The obedience to the rubrics needs to be an intelligent obedience, an informed obedience.

Of course this all begins with the clergy, who might themselves need to think a bit more about what they are doing ....

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

There is still one

... intelligent programme on BBC Radio 4, that is. Quote ... Unquote has deteriorated - I still await a response to my complaint about an obscene joke, and the first question has now become multiple choice.

The surviving intelligent programme is Round Britain Quiz. A new series has just started.

Questions ...Questions is usually interesting, too, but I think the recent series has now finished.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

With Bernadette, let us make the sign of the Cross

"With Bernadette, let us make the sign of the Cross" is the pastoral theme in Lourdes for the 2010 pilgrimage season. A presentation of the theme, in .pdf format, can be downloaded here, from the Lourdes website. The October-November 2009 issue of Lourdes Magazine was dedicated to this them, and contains a series of  articles reflecting on the sign of the Cross and on its significance in the life of Bernadette. One of the articles from that issue can be found here, and it indicates the reasons for this choice of pastoral theme. Not available online, but worthy of comment, are a series of meditations/photgraphs by Philippe MacLeod and an article "A sign children understand" which gives practical pointers for both parents and children about making the sign of the Cross.

In some parts of the world, Christians are persecuted today on account of their faith.

In other places, people suffer on account of natural disasters or conflict.

In developed countries, an attempt is made to ban the Cross from public display. At the same time, it is not unusual for Crosses to be worn as jewelry.

The pastoral theme challenges us to recognise the content of our faith expressed in praying the Sign of the Cross; to recognise the Cross as we encounter it in the circumstances of our own life and the lives of others; to make visible the sign of the Cross. Most fundamentally, it asks us to make of the Cross a real sign that we try to live out rather than just a piece of decoration that has no substance.  In the circumstances of Europe, where the place of the Cross is challenged, the choice of theme is very timely.

A particular way in which the theme is being celebrated in Lourdes is in the "field of Crosses" being placed by pilgrimages at the Breton  Calvary, near the St Michael's Gate entrance to the shrine. As I watched this video about the "field of Crosses" at Lourdes' Youtube channel, I was reminded of Lithuania's "hill of Crosses". In a somewhat different situation today, the Lourdes "field of Crosses" provides a very timely witness to Christian faith. I hope that the authorities at the shrine will find a way of preserving this witness after the 2010 pilgrimage season.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Shock of the Bomb

Underneath this title, a lead article in today's Times proclaims:
Hiroshima was a terrible act of war but no crime, in a just and necessary fight
The lead article comments on the annual commemoration of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, taking note of the first time participation in the commemoration in Hiroshima itself of the US Ambassador to Japan.
The American commemoration symbolised humanitarian concern and President Obama's commitment to building a peaceful world order. It was not an apology to the people of Japan. Neither this administration nor any other is ever likely to give one. That is not obduracy but recognition of historical truth. The bombings of Hiroshima and, three days later, Nagasaki were a terrible act of war. But they were no crime. ...

Was there no alternative? There was: a conventional invasion of the mainland and a blockade. It does not settle the ethical debate over the A-bomb, but that course would have cost many more lives and provided a glimpse of hell...

America's use of the A-bomb ended a necessary war against a totalitarian power. That memory places an historic obligation on the US and its allies to reflect with humility, but not with contrition, on destruction wreaked in a just cause.
Wasn't the dropping of the two atomic bombs itself a "glimpse of hell"? Doesn't the anxiety to avoid civilian casualties in current conflicts rather contradict the attitude of disregard to civilian casualties caused in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? And if apology and contrition is considered appropriate in other contexts, why not in this one?

From the point of view of Catholic teaching, few statements are as solemn as that contained in Vatican II's condemnation of total war in its constitution Gaudium et Spes n.80:
...this most holy synod makes its own the condemnations of total war already pronounced by recent popes,(2) and issues the following declaration.

Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.

The unique hazard of modern warfare consists in this: it provides those who possess modern scientific weapons with a kind of occasion for perpetrating just such abominations; moreover, through a certain inexorable chain of events, it can catapult men into the most atrocious decisions. That such may never truly happen in the future, the bishops of the whole world gathered together, beg all men, especially government officials and military leaders, to give unremitting thought to their gigantic responsibility before God and the entire human race.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Another beatification?

One of the difficulties accompanying both John Henry Newman and Oscar Romero, seen as candidates for canonisation, is the way in which their life in the Church is "politicised" by ecclesial commentators. Liberal and conservative Catholics fight for "ownership" of Newman, and Romero is championed by liberal Catholics and ignored by conservatives. This is somewhat of a caricature, I know, but it does reflect a reality. What is really required is an attitude of openness and receptivity, which sees the lives and personalities of both as gifts of God, given for the spiritual good of the Church. We need to let the two speak for themselves.

In this context, Thinking Faith's article Another beatification? suggests an interesting point. This is that the concerns which characterise Newman's life are the same as those that characterise Romero's:
Among them are: his way of thinking, his search for objective truth, his faith in infallible authority, his concern for the role of the laity and church unity, and finally his trusting surrender to God’s providence. Each of these issues also figured prominently in the life of Archbishop Romero and gave depth to the religious faith he shared with others.

I do not know enough about Cardinal Newman and Archbishop Romero to verify these individual points; but all my reading of Archbishop Romero's original words suggests that he was completely loyal to the teaching of the Church. The suggestion of parallels between him and Newman is one that is worth pursuing.

One wonders whether the author of this article is airing what he senses as a grievance at the beatification of John Henry Newman occuring when, as yet, there appears to be no sign of Oscar Romero being beatified. Tucked away in the article is a classic of the "spirit of Vatican II", perhaps a product of editing or of hasty writing, perhaps not:
The great contribution of the Second Vatican Council was to offer a new vision of the Church, which saw it not as a hierarchical structure, but rather a communion of equals.
Er, chapter 3 of the Constitution Lumen Gentium on the Church is entitled in the Latin original: "De constitutione Hierarchica Ecclesiae et in specie de Episcopatu", translated in the version on the Vatican website as "On the hierarchical structure of the Church, and in particular on the Episcopate". There is, of course, an element of truth in this "spirit of Vatican II -ism" in that all the faithful are equal before God in terms of their being called to holiness, to growth in the spiritual life. But, as far as offices held in the Church are concerned, Lumen Gentium provides an explicit teaching on the difference of offices in the church. This slip is a shame, as I think the underlying idea that a commonality of concerns, and so a common worthiness as candidates for beatification and canonisation, can be found in the lives and missions of John Henry Newman and Oscar Romero in the Church is one that is worth exploring.

Ebbsfleet on Synod, Anglicanorum Coetibus and the Papal Visit

The Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Andrew Burnham, is one of the three Pastoral Episcopal Visitors who have care of Church of England parishes that do not accept the ministry of women clergy; colloquially he is a "flying bishop". It is interesting that he writes a monthly pastoral letter to the people in his care, though this is clearly something that suits the situation of a bishop whose pastoral oversight is geographically widespread and for specific communities among the broader spectrum of Church of England parishes. I wonder if we would not benefit from Roman Catholic bishops doing the same...

Since the July votes of the General Synod with regard to the admission of women as bishops in the Church of England, Bishop Andrew has begun a series of three pastoral letters reflecting on the situation of Anglo-Catholics within the Church of England. The August letter was the first, the September letter has just been published and the October letter is still to come.

For Roman Catholic readers, I think that the September letter provides a very informative account of, and insight in to, the position of the Catholic wing of the Church of England at the present time. Do read the whole. There are a three rather lively points tucked away in the text. The first of these is an aside, whose brackets I retain below:
(It is hard to build a Catholic ecclesiology, incidentally, on a system which allows priests and deacons to vote down the attempts of archbishops and bishops in areas of Faith and Order. Are the procedures of General Synod in any sense ‘Catholic’?)
Quite, and, one wonders whether or not this is really the core question, the question of authority with regard to the substance of belief and practice.

It is only in his last paragraph that Bishop Andrew Burnham refers to Anglicanorum Coetibus, and it is interesting to see how he understands the offer of Anglican ordinariates in the present situation of the Church of England:
Some of you will now be asking why I am picking at the carcase rather than just declaring it dead and moving on to embrace the offer of Pope Benedict XVI to Anglicans in Anglicanorum cœtibus. The Pope’s offer is not a bargain basement sale. It isn’t ‘clearance’ or ‘end of roll’ or ‘while stocks last’. Nor is it a rescue plan for shipwrecked Anglo-catholics. It is a way of pursuing the ecumenical journey to which we have been committed for a very long time and it must be considered in its own right. That I propose to do in a third Pastoral Letter in October, the third in a series of letters.
I must admit to liking the turn of phrase "clearance", "end of roll" etc, and am very comfortable with the thought of Bishop Andrew expressing thinsgs in this way; I suspect that some Roman Catholics might think it a bit off hand. I do think that Bishop Andrew is absolutely right to separate the question of an ordinariate from that of departure from the Church of England prompted by decisions with regard to the question of women bishops (or with regard to any other specific, single issue, for that matter). From the Roman Catholic side, I think it is quite wrong to be looking forward to the establishment of an ordinariate simply in response to the ordination of women in the Church of England, and therefore to the welcoming at some point in the next one or two years of an "influx" of former Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church. Some media comment has referred to former Anglicans "joining" an ordinariate - but that, too, is not the situation. There is first of all the possibility of several ordinariates, and in the second place such ordinariates have to be set up as the former Anglican community enters the Roman Catholic Church.

The third lively point is also in the last paragraph of the letter, and it suggests a most interesting implication of the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain:
Meanwhile I think we continue to pray, reflect, and rest, and, of course, ponder and reflect during the visit of the Pope to England later in September, what we should now do, each one of us. Most of all, as the Holy Father comes among us as the leader of the Christian family, we pray for the coming of the Kingdom and the triumph of the Gospel over the forces of evil and indifference.
H/T Luke Coppen.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Communion under both kinds and EMHC (2): lay ministers of Holy Communion

In the current edition of the Diocesan Directory for my own diocese of Brentwood is a section headed "Guidelines for Ministers of Holy Communion". These guidelines were revised by the Bishop in 2005. One might reflect on the absence of the words "special" (used in the instruction Immensae Caritatis that gave legislative permission for lay people to be commissioned as ministers of Holy Communion and to which the guidelines make reference in their first paragraph) or "extraordinary" (used in the revised 2002 General Instruction on the Roman Missal) in this title. Most of the guidelines set out the practical provisions to be followed in the diocese, and, as such, are quite reasonable.

The one paragraph in the guidelines that refers to Communion under both kinds is as follows:
Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it is distributed under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clear expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the relationship between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Father's Kingdom (General Instruction on the Roman Missal n.281).
Now that we have had the experience of Communion under both kinds for a good number of years, made possible by Ministers of Holy Communion, I would like to re-emphasise that this should be the norm at all Masses.
In the context, the reference to Ministers of Holy Communion is to commissioned lay ministers, and there can be no doubt about this being the intended reference.

Now, as I suggested in my first post in this series, there is every reason to encourage the reception of Holy Communion under both kinds.

The use of lay ministers to achieve this, however, gives rise to a set of considerations in addition to those relating to the nature of Communion under both kinds itself. These considerations are about the nature of the ordained ministries of the priest, deacon and bishop as ministers of the Eucharist to others. They are the "ordinary" ministers of the Eucharist. In other words, distributing Holy Communion to the faithful, be that during the celebration of the Liturgy itself or in circumstances outside the Liturgy, or leading a Eucharistic celebration outside Mass, relates to and arises from their office in the Church as ordained ministers; it is a proper part of their ministry. When a lay person undertakes a Eucharistic ministry of this type, they do so in an "extraordinary" or "special" way. It is not something that relates to or arises from their office as lay people in the Church; instead, it is an assistance to the ministry that is proper to the priest, deacon or bishop undertaken, as the instruction Immensae Caritatis suggests, so that access to Holy Communion does not become impossible or excessively difficult for the lay faithful.

Now, the word "ordinary" does have an everyday meaning in addition to its technical meaning with regard to different ministries in the Church. Something is "ordinary" when it happens regularly, frequently or, indeed, all the time. Now, in Brentwood diocese (and, I expect, in many other English dioceses) the use of lay ministers to distribute Holy Communion is "ordinary" in this second sense though "extraordinary" in the first sense. This every day use of lay ministers does act as a counter-sign, a kind of going against the sign-value of the office of the ordained ministry with regard to the Eucharist. Expressing this in traditionalist terms, some would talk about the hands of the priest being anointed or consecrated in order to handle the Body and Blood of the Lord, and therefore the lay faithful should not handle them or, the sacred vessels. This counter-sign to the office of the priest or deacon is why many, and not all of us traditionalist by any means, prefer not to receive under both kinds when doing so involves receiving the Precious Blood from a lay minister.

There are situations where the use of lay ministers is quite understandable - taking Holy Communion to the sick and housebound or in situations of genuinely large Mass attendance, for example. But I do find it a bit ironic that, in many situations, the positive sign-value of Holy Communion under both kinds provides a basis, by the use of lay ministers, for undermining the sign-value of the office of the ordained minister with regard to the Eucharist. It would be very helpful if something could be done to deliver a better balance between these two sign-values in pastoral practice. I offer some suggestions below, based on the principle that lay ministers are only used in a way that is clearly "extraordinary".

1. At a weekday Mass in many parishes, the numbers receiving Holy Communion are actually small enough to allow the following practice. The celebrating priest could distribute the Sacred Host to the faithful and then the Precious Blood - either by the faithful queueing a second time to receive from the chalice (after all, this is what they do when a lay minister is used) or by them forming a line across the front of the Church and the priest going along the line once with the Sacred Host and a second time with the Precious Blood. When lay ministers are used to assist with the larger numbers at Sunday Mass there is some sense of the "extraordinary" nature of that assistance. Both of the sign-values are in play, and can be the subject of suitable catechesis in the parish.

2. At any celebration of Mass, the practical provisions of nn.162-163 of the revised (2002) General Instruction on the Roman Missal with regard to lay ministers could be observed. These provisions expect the lay ministers to only approach the sanctuary after the celebrating priest has received Holy Communion, to themselves receive Communion and then to assist with distributing Communion to the faithful. Purification of the sacred vessels and the transfer of the ciborium to and from the tabernacle are to be carried out by the priest or deacon. The required assistance in distributing Holy Communion is provided, but nothing more - the assistance can be seen to be "extraordinary" and only to meet the necessity.

3. In situations where lay ministers play a large role in Eucharistic ministry - in taking Holy Communion to the sick or housebound, or in arranging times of Eucharistic adoration or celebration outside of Mass - priests should keep a visible participation in this ministry. Lay people might well take a lead in the practical arrangements, but priests should not be absent. The activity of the lay faithful does not relieve priests of their own ministry in these respects, though clearly the precise circumstances will vary from parish to parish.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Communion under both kinds and EMHCs (1): Communion under both kinds

In the development of the Liturgical life of the Church in England and Wales there are two questions that have been, in practice, interrelated but are often treated distinctly. One of the questions is that of Holy Communion being received under both kinds and the other is that of the use of lay people as ministers of Holy Communion. I think I am right in suggesting that my experience - that the receiving of Communion under both kinds has been a major driver in the expansion of the use of lay people as ministers of Communion during the celebration of the Liturgy - is not untypical.

Much comment on this focusses around the question of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, which I reserve to the second of these posts. However, the other aspect is that of the Liturgical meaning of Holy Communion received under both kinds, and that is what I would like to discuss in this post.

Two preliminaries should perhaps be recognised. The first is that the priest celebrant always has received Communion under both kinds, so one can see a restricted sense in which receiving under both kinds is always "intrinsic" to the celebration of Mass, even when the people only receive under one kind. The second is the teaching of the Council of Trent, referred to by the General Instruction on the Roman Missal n.282, that Christ, whole and entire, is received under one kind only, so that a person who receives only under the form of the Sacred Host does not "lose out" in terms of the grace of Holy Communion. The General Instruction is explicit in identifying the value of Communion received under both kinds as lying in its sign value, receiving under both kinds being "a fuller form as a sign" (n.281); and in encouraging the practice of receiving under both kinds (n.282):

...the faithful should be encouraged to seek to participate more eagerly in this sacred rite, by which the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is made more fully evident.
So what are the different parts that make up this value of Communion under both kinds as a "fuller form as a sign"?

1. "This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world". The invitation to Communion draws attention, through its reference to the Lamb whose Blood is shed, to the Scriptural roots of the sign value of Communion under both kinds. To briefly describe three moments in this Scriptural rooting of the sign value of Holy Communion received under both kinds ...

It is the blood of the Passover lamb, painted on the door of their houses, that saves the people of Israel from the destruction of the first born in Egypt (Exodus 12:1-14): "Some of the blood must then be taken and put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where it is eaten".

St Paul teaches the reconciliation of the Jews and the pagans in terms of the blood of Christ: "... you that used to be so far apart from us have been brought very close by the blood of Christ .." (Ephesians 2:11-18); and St John, in his account of the Passion, lays great emphasis on the blood and water that flow from the side of Christ: "..This is the evidence of one who saw it - trustworthy evidence .." (John 19:33-37).

And the book of Revelation offers us the image of the saints in heaven, worshipping he Lamb in the Eucharistic banquet of heaven: "... because they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb, they now stand in front of God's throne and serve him day and night in his sanctuary..." (Rev.:7:9-17).

2. The tradition of the Church also offers examples of a recognition of the salvific meaning of the blood of Christ. There is the reading from the instructions of St John Chrysostom to catechumens used at the Office of Readings on Good Friday. St Catherine of Siena's Dialogue also speaks frequently of the blood of Christ: "How was heaven opened? With the key of His Blood .."

3. From an ecclesial point of view, there are three reflections that can be added to these Scriptural and historical dimensions. The washing from sin that is represented in the Blood of Christ, and is an aspect of the grace of receiving Holy Communion is also represented in the washing with water of the sacrament of Baptism. Receiving under both kinds brings out more clearly the way in which the Eucharist is the "destination" to which the other sacraments of initiation lead; it reminds us of the baptismal character of Eucharistic communion. The second reflection is suggested by the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (n.281) - receiving under both kinds gives a clearer expression of the way in which "the new and everlasting covenant is ratified in the blood of the Lord". It draws our attention to the covenantal nature of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary and the covenantal nature of the Eucharistic celebration. The third reflection is also suggested by the General Instruction (n.281) - receiving under both kinds gives a clearer expression of the relationship between the banquet of the Eucharist celebrated in the world of today and the eschatalogical banquet in which we will take part in the future in heaven. The language of the General Instruction is that of "banquet" and not of "meal" - trying to draw attention to its sacral nature rather than reducing it to the mundane and every day, pointing us towards heaven from earth. These ecclesial reflections are, of course, rooted in the Scriptural considerations already referred to above.

If these ecclesial reflections are taken seriously, they bring to the fore the profoundly sacral, indeed heavenly, nature of Holy Communion.

Whilst all of this suggests that we should be keen to receive Holy Communion under both kinds when the circumstances allow, it leaves us still with the question of the appropriateness of using lay ministers as the way of making this possible. And it leaves, too, the question of doing this in such a way that the due sacredness, emphasised by the underlying meaning of receiving Communion under both kinds, is actually reflected in the practice. These questions are for my second post, but one can perhaps finish this post by asking: does the way in which priests in parishes make provision for Communion under both kinds, and the disposition of the lay faithful as they receive Communion under both kinds, as a general rule, reflect the reality outlined above?

Monday, 2 August 2010

Papal Visit: BBC coverage

There is an audio slideshow giving a retrospective to the visit of Pope John Paul II to Britain in 1982. Given the context of the Falklands War referred to in the slideshow, I would add to it the concelebrated Mass for peace that Pope John Paul II celebrated at the altar of the Chair in the Vatican Basilica. This brought together bishops from both Britain and Argentina in the days before the British attack began. There is a bit of an edge at one point in the slideshow commentary, but that can't overshadow the enthusiasm with which Pope John Paul II was greeted.

And Radio 4 will broadcast 'In Living Memory: Pope John Paul II in Britain' on Tuesday 3 August at 1102 BST.  It will then be available for 7 days on the BBC iPlayer.

Papal Visit: Hyde Park vigil

The website for the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict to Britain has a page that gives an outline of the vigil due to take place in Hyde Park on the Saturday afternoon/evening.

I have also seen a timing of 3pm-9pm for this vigil, so I expect that the vigil itself, as described on the Papal visit page, will be preceded by a kind of festival of dance, song etc.

That the culmination of the vigil is a time of Eucharistic Adoration, with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, is really quite striking. It reflects the precedent set at World Youth Day celebrations, with the vigil with the Pope the evening before the closing Mass also being centred on a time of Eucharistic Adoration. I recall Pope Benedict observing early in his pontificate that he saw it as a sign of providence that he was elected to be Pope during the Year of the Eucharist initiated by his predecessor. That a time of Eucharistic Adoration comes at what I suspect will be a kind of turning point, a kind of lynch-pin event during his stay in Britain seems entirely appropriate.

In other respects, the three part structure of the vigil and its objectives are, in my view, very well thought out. The idea of showcasing how the Catholic Church contributes to the common good, to what "new Labour" would have called a "public benefit", is both politically and ecclesially sound.

If you have not been able to obtain a ticket to take part in the vigil, there is no excuse! There will, I think, be opportunity to greet the Holy Father in the streets and at least to be somewhere in the park with a Papal flag ...