Thursday, 30 December 2010

"I'm not a huge fan of the Pope because I don't see the need for one."

As I was eves-dropping from my digital priest-hole into that great digital courtyard which is Facebook, I overheard this assessment of someone's feelings for the Pope. This comment was made on a friend's status. She was sharing her enjoyment of a Pope Benedict-related Christmas present, and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, when someone began a series of comments beginning with the above statement, all designed to show her "the truth about the whole Catholic church [sic]". It turns out that this guy used to be Catholic, until "God changed my heart and showed me the truth." I think it's a safe guess that he hasn't become Orthodox, because he proceeds to quote a number of passages of scripture, all of which apparently show that the papacy (and 'the whole Catholic church') is, well, needless. And no mention is made of Sacred Tradition, or the history of the Church, which surely an Orthodox christian would have done.

First of all, let's acknowledge that such an action is the height of bad manners. Commenting on someone's 'Merry Christmas' Facebook status to try to prove that their religion is bogus? I think this guy might start by putting down the Bible he's determined to misread (more of which in a moment), and pick up something about being a gentleman from Amazon.

However, if we find ourselves in such a situation, how are we to respond? As usual, there will be a few guiding principles we can apply in pretty much any situation. In this case, our antagonist follows the above statement of personal preference for 'no-popery' by quoting the letter to the Hebrews, in which the divine author describes Christ as "a great high priest" [Hb 4:14], and then 1 Timothy 2:5, wherein the Apostle tells Timothy, one of his disciples and successors in Ephesus, that "there is one God: and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus." Clearly, this is supposed to be evidence for his statement.

Our heroine (and she is a heroine for making a reply at all) asks what he thinks about Matthew 16:18 - "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church", and correctly points out the flaw in the young man's premise, which seems to be that we don't need a Pope because Jesus is the only high priest and mediator, and the Popes are trying to replace Him. So here's our first principle - examine the premise of their argument. Once you get past the reeled off passages of scripture, what are they actually trying to say? In this case, he was trying to say something which has nothing to do with the passages he quoted. Jesus is the only high priest and mediator? Yeah, we know, and we agree. That does nothing to affect the fact of there being a divinely established papacy or not, does it?

Which brings us neatly to the BIGGEST principle in dealing with these situations. Or rather, the biggest mistake people, Catholic or not, often make. Indeed, our young heroine makes this mistake in referencing Matthew's Gospel, and understandably, because no one has taught her otherwise. Sadly, it seems some Protestants are actively taught to make it. That mistake is quoting Scripture out of context. Selectively quoting isolated passages of Scripture is good for nothing. Nothing. Even the Enemy does that for his own infernal purposes [Mt 4:6]. The real skill is reading each part of Scripture in unity, in harmony, with the other parts, whether it's the previous or subsequent parts of the same chapter, or book, or a different book. This is something urged by Pope Benedict in his document on Scripture [which is very long, so this is a summary]. When we do this, we discover what the Holy Spirit intended.

A prime example is the Devil's own misreading of Psalm 91 in Mt 4:6. After his selective verse about the angels bearing Jesus in their hands lest He strike His foot against a stone, if Satan was to quote the next two lines, he would see what God has in store for him - "On the lion and the viper you [Jesus] will tread, and trample the young lion and the dragon." It's not too much to suppose that, in fact, this passage of the Old Testament is fulfilled when Christ refuses to throw himself from the Temple tower - he doesn't put His Father to the test, and so does indeed go on to trample the dragon on the Cross.

Let's do the same thing with the quote from 1 Timothy 2:5. Yes, Jesus is the one mediator between God and men. A mediator is someone who makes peace. Yet St. Paul also says at the start of 1 Timothy 2, that he desires the church over which St. Timothy has authority to make "prayers, supplications, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all men" and especially those in authority, so that "we may lead a quiet and peaceable life." He then explains where this peace comes from in the passage already quoted - from Jesus Christ, the one mediator. So the Apostle connects the actions of the Church (offering prayer, fasting, thanksgiving [eucharistia!]...for peace) with the action of Christ (making the peace for which they have prayed). Therefore, while Christ is the only mediator, the Church is an intercessor for the whole world, and can effect its peace.

What do find if we widen our context to the whole of this letter? St. Paul is giving St. Timothy fatherly guidance on how to organise the church, and what to teach them, including a warning against false teachers. The letter reveals that Timothy has this authority because grace was given him "by prophecy [in some translations 'by the prophets' i.e. Apostles], with imposition of hands of the priesthood." [1 Tm 4:14]. Grace, of course, is a spiritual reality, coming from God through the Holy Spirit, but St. Paul is making it clear that this gift of grace can be given by the Church's elders/bishops by the laying on of hands. The Apostles do exactly the same with the seven Deacons in the Acts of the Apostles [see Acts 6]. So, the Bible is plainly telling us that the Apostles can give their authority to others. This authority is not merely a worldly authority, or status, but an authority backed up by the Holy Spirit. For Catholics and Orthodox, this is an early example of apostolic succession, where by the Apostles could hand on their authority to successors, in an unbroken chain down to the bishops of our own day.

So, now it's reasonable to ask where did the Apostles get their authority to direct the prayers of the Church, appoint successors with spiritual power, and determine what is authentic Christianity in terms of faith and morals, which is also covered in the letter to St. Timothy? According to the Bible...from Jesus Himself! When we read these passages from the Gospels, it is obvious that the Apostles have no authority of their own, but that Christ is sharing His own authority with them. A great example is Luke 10:17, when the 72 disciples come back from their mission to the surrounding towns. Rejoicing, they tell Jesus, "Lord, the devils also are subject to us in your name. [emphasis mine]" As if a core group of disciples imitating Christ by casting out demons isn't explicit enough, the Lord says to them, earlier in chapter 10, "He that hears you, hears me. He that despises you, despises me. And he that despises me, despises the one who sent me." He also shares His power to forgive and retain sins in John 20:21-23, and declares, "Just as the Father sent me, so am I sending you." It seems that Jesus was keen for the Church to continue doing His work after He'd returned to the Father.

Our final example will eventually widen our context into the Old Testament as well. In the Matthew's Gospel verse that our heroine quoted, a longer passage shows us something very important regarding the Church's authority. After Simon, brother of Andrew, had confessed that Jesus is the Christ, "the Son of the living God," Jesus says to him, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you bind on earth, it shall also be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth, it shall also be loosed in heaven." This is the most familiar passage in this dispute about the nature of the papacy, and is the key to understanding it. Or rather, this is the lock, and we need a key to unlock it to reveal the full meaning.

Jesus here is making a reference, almost word-for-word, to Isaiah 22:20-22. In it, God gives the King's authority to Eliacim, so that he can be "a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem [the holy city], and to the house of Juda [the king's tribe]." Effectively, God is appointing a steward to govern in the king's name. He is definitely not trying to replace the king! The key passage (sorry for the pun) is this, "I will lay the key of the house of David on his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open." Click! That's the sound of the lock of Matthew's Gospel opening. Is it not painfully obvious that Christ is likewise appointing a steward to govern his people (the Church) in his name, and to be a father to them? Just as the stewardship of Jerusalem was passed on from one steward to the next, so has St. Peter's authority been passed on from one Pope to the next. Such a blatant reference to the OT would not have been lost on the Jewish readers of Matthew's Gospel.

Further to this important passage, Jesus also prays for Peter so that he can strengthen his brothers, that is, the other Apostles [Lk 22:31-32], and after His Resurrection asks him to "feed my lambs" and "feed my sheep" [Jn 21:15-17]. Jesus doesn't give these tasks to any of the other Apostles, unlike the power to forgive and retain sins which the Apostles share.

Before we finish, let's tackle a strange assertion the antagonist makes regarding Peter as the rock. His response to our heroine's quote was to claim, "Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour is the only rock on which the church is built. The LORD alone throughout the whole bible is called the rock." He proceeds to quote from a couple of Old and New Testament passages, which do indeed refer to God/Christ as a foundation, a corner stone, or a rock. Of course God is the Rock, Foundation and Cornerstone! But this does nothing to diminish, and everything to exalt, the authority of the Church, with which He chose to share that power. 

As for the notion that only God is referred to as rock, foundation, etc...well, that's not what the Bible says, is it?  What about Ephesians 2:20, where St. Paul says, "You are part of a building that has the apostles and prophets for its foundations, and Christ Jesus himself for its chief cornerstone."? If Christ is the chief cornerstone, doesn't that mean that there are other cornerstones? Yes it does, according to Revelation 21:14, where the 12 Apostle's names are carved into the cornerstones of the heavenly Jerusalem. The Lord doesn't even reserve the authority to judge to Himself, but promises the Apostles that they will sit with Him in His majesty, on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel [Mt 19:28]. Oh...and not to forget the passage where God Himself gives Simon a new name by calling him Rock!

It seems like we can only conclude that Jesus was taught to share with others as a boy. He shares His authority with the Church through the Apostles, who can cast out demons, offer right worship to God and intercede for the world, are definite channels of grace to others, can forgive sins, determine the boundaries of authentic Christian living, and support the Church as its foundation, and appoint their own successors. In addition, St. Peter is called to govern the Church as a steward, and strengthen the faith of his fellow leaders. All of this power comes from Christ, so that people can be lead to Christ. 

Now, it's important to recognise that the Lord didn't have to do any of this. He could have converted the whole world by Himself, which would have been particularly easy after His Resurrection. However, He chose to do it the way we've examined so as to share His glory with us (as is clear from the Mt 19:28 passage). Any of us may think He acted unnecessarily in doing so, but He also acted unnecessarily in redeeming us, though I'm glad He did. As such, I think it would be a good idea for this young man to heed his own advice, and pray for guidance, confident that if he knocks, the door will be opened, because we know who's holding the keys.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

"The Pope's invitation to Anglicans to convert..."

A while ago I coined a term for my own amusement: 'Journalisma'. Think of it as a combination of asthma and eczema, except it only afflicts journalists. Its affects are simple - it cuts off oxygen to the journalist's brain, leaving them short of breath facts (which is the asthma part), and spreads like an irritating rash, in that it can be found in multiple media outlets (the eczema part).

With this is mind, I'd like to draw your attention to a recent outbreak, this being one case among many.The above quote wasn't said by anyone I was talking to, but is how an article on the BBC News website begins. Inspired by the excellent work of the journalists on the Get Religion blog, I thought I'd take a swing at deconstructing the article to show you Catholics how much "the press...just doesn't get religion" and to show a few things you will have to point out when people start conversations with, "I read in the papers the other day that the Pope..."

It seems a common mistake (trick?) of journalists is to muddle up the process of who-talked-to-who-first. Indeed, this article begins with a clanger: "The Pope's invitation to Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism..." Can you see it? The Pope's invitation. Doesn't this make it sound like the Pope called the disaffected Anglican bishops and said, "Come and join us."? In fact, the Pope didn't initiate anything; the Anglican bishops from England and Australia went to Rome and asked for a way to convert as a community, rather than individually. The Apostolic Constitution 'Anglicanorum Coetibus', which sets how this is to happen, begins, "In recent times the Holy Spirit has moved groups of Anglicans to petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion..." Get that, BBC? They petitioned Rome 'repeatedly and insistently'!

This, of course, is all of-a-piece with the British media's general handling of this story [see this headline and this headline for more Journalisma, although the Times article at least gets the sequence of events straight. Perhaps misleading headlines is another symptom of the illness].

The main part of the article is about a cable communication by the US Ambassador to the Holy See, in which he reports some comments of 'our man in the Vatican' Francis Campbell. Mr Campbell said to his American opposite number, Miguel Diaz, that the Pope "had put [Archbishop of Canterbury] Williams in an impossible position." As you'll see from the BBC article, this is reported without comment, so I'll add a few of my own.

"An impossible position." I agree, Dr. Williams is in an impossible position, which is none of the Pope's doing, but his own Church's. The article's lack of context to the issuing of Anglicanorum is the problem here, and is another symptom of Journalisma. It doesn't ask why those Anglican bishops petitioned Rome in the first place (which means that you should if anyone brings it up!). They want to become fully Catholic because they foresaw the result at the General Synod earlier this year, when a compromise, proposed by Dr. Williams and the Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu, for the Anglo-Catholic communities to have only male bishops was rejected. These Anglo Catholics now either have to accept the authority of women bishops, or leave the Anglican Church [see their statement in the Guardian]. It was for this reason that the bishops in the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) went to Rome and asked for support in converting as a group, and the Pope has helped them. return to our point. Who's fault is it that Dr. Williams is in this position? Not the Pope's, anyway. That this statement comes from the first Catholic British Ambassador to the Holy See since the so-called Reformation is very upsetting, but not the subject of this post. However, the anonymous journalist simply reports the statements as fact.

Another symptom of Journalisma, at least when it comes to the Catholic Church, is to 'go all in'. By this I mean that the oxygen-deprived journalist appears to think, "Well, I'm writing a story about the Catholic Church anyway, so I might as well flesh it out with stories about child abuse, and anything else I can find to damage it's credibility." Ergo, this story finishes with more Wikileaked cables about the abuse in Ireland, and a somewhat confused section about how the Vatican "helped secure the release of British April 2007". Or not.

This last part is interesting, because clearly it sounds too much like positive news re: the Church, so the journalist oscillates between reporting that an official (whether Vatican or American is unclear) told Pres. Obama in a report that the Vatican can act as an intermediary in such cases, to saying that the same official was "unclear how much clout the Vatican has with Iran", to affirming that the Vatican did help secure the British sailors' release, and finishing with it is unclear how influential the Vatican was in this case. Confused? Me too. Surely we can conclude that, however influential or not the Vatican may be in Tehran, it is at least influential enough to secure the release of British sailors. Why the need to repeat the same contradictory statements twice?

So, there you have it. Look out for these four symptoms of the dreaded disease: 1) muddling up of facts, especially timelines; 2) misleading headlines; 3) lack of context; and 4) throwing everything at the Church in the hope that something sticks. Happy diagnosing!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

"Preach at all times, and if you must, use words."

How many times have you heard this said? It seems to be a favourite among Catholics, not least because of its association with that most beloved of saints, Francis of Assisi. As 'Franciscan' as it may be in spirit, particularly when we see St. Francis' dedication to the poor (preaching through deeds) as part of the same evangelisation effort as his friend St. Dominic's dedication to preaching, this phrase does present us with some problems.

Setting aside the great difficulty of actually attributing this quote to St. Francis, and the fact that St. Francis was himself a gifted preacher, it embodies an attitude to talking about our faith from which the laity in England suffer a great deal. I wonder whether it is a particularly English problem ('stiff upper lip' and all that), which prevents us from talking openly about the things which are important to us. It is certainly a modern problem, because society-at-large is uncomfortable with the idea of objective truth. When Catholic Christians talk about their faith and their religion, what else are we doing but asserting that there is a Truth and sharing it (Him)?

Ergo, Catholic's can safely hide behind this Franciscan apocrypha and say, "Ah well, St. Francis said you should only use words if you need to." I know that's not what the quote says, but how else are we to read that "and if you must"? Surely, it can only be taken to mean that using words is a last resort, something to be begrudgingly wheeled out when all else has failed? In practice, it's far easier to say nothing, even in the direst circumstances, and save yourself the rejection and ridicule.

The Catholic Church, however, takes a markedly different view. All the baptised share in Christ's three offices of priest, prophet, and king. It is as baptised prophets that we are to evangelise the world. How? The General Catechism says:

905 Lay people also fulfil their prophetic mission by evangelization , 'that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life'.

The paragraph then says that this double evangelisation by word and deed is 'peculiarly effective' through the laity because it is carried out in the ordinary comings and goings of daily life. People are going to hear our joy and see our holiness not just at church, but at home, work, gym, pub, on the street, and so on.

So far, so standard. But here's where it gets interesting. There is a quote immediately after this from Vatican II's document on the role of the laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, which reads:

"This witness of life, however, is not the sole element in the apostolate; the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers...or to the faithful." [abbreviation in the Catechism].

Do you see what's so unusual about this? We have already had a passage telling us to evangelise through word and "testimony of life". Why, then, did the bishops who compiled the CCC feel it necessary to go back and underline that it is the duty of the laity, as 'true apostles', to be "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word"?

In all honesty, I have no idea, but clearly they were following the same thinking of the Council Fathers who wrote Apostolicam 30 years before. In it, the Bishops of the world exhort us, the People of God, to "be more diligent in doing what they can to explain, defend, and properly apply Christian principles to the problems of our era in accordance with the mind of the Church" [AA 6§3] each according to our own ability and learning. Clearly, they saw that if true faith in Christ was to flourish and not be overcome by the "very serious errors" of our era, then the laity, now better educated than at any point in Church history, should play a pivotal role.

This thinking regarding the essential role of the laity could well have been influenced by Blessed John Henry Newman, sometimes called 'the Father of Vatican II', who 90 years before the Council wrote, "I want a laity...who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold, and what they do not, who know their creed so well, that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it." [Present Position of Catholics in England, pg 390]

Bl. John Henry, Vatican II, and the Catechism all agree - we, the laity, have a special role, a 'peculiarly effective' role in bringing people into contact with Jesus, and it is especially important that we do this by explaining, reasoning out, and defending the Faith verbally. In other words, by preaching.

Yet all three sources are united in one other aspect. They all presuppose that Catholics are already living the Christian life, and making the Gospel present in the world by the way they live. Earlier in Present Position, Newman comically points to the effect 'testimony of life' will have: "...the Manchester people will say, 'Oh, certainly, Popery is horrible, and must be kept down. Still, let us give the devil his due, they are a remarkably excellent body of men here, and we will take care no one does them any harm.'" [Present Position, pg 387]

Likewise, Apostolicam reminds us to "let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." [Mt 5:16]

So it seems to me that the quote which began this post isn't entirely wrong, but it is missing a huge part of the picture. The fuller way of preaching the Gospel proposed by Newman and Vatican II is to ensure, first of all, that we live holy lives, and continue to do that which the laity has always done i.e. bring a Christian way of being and behaving into everyday activities, and other people's lives.

Then, we must tell people why we do what we do; that it isn't a matter of personal preference, but principles held in common by a worldwide society called the Catholic Church. Let us not be afraid to announce Jesus Christ in conversation, because as He said in today's Gospel, "I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to resist and gainsay." [Lk 21:15]

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

"Would you say the Old and New Testaments are two stories, or one? I don't want to upset anyone."

It's been long observed that there are no new heresies. Like weeds, they just keep growing back, and while it may look like a different plant, it's the same one as before, with the same roots. See this great breakdown of quite a few old bad ideas.

The one alluded to in the above question, which is based on the idea that the Old and New Testaments are radically different, 'two stories rather than one', is practically the oldest, and is called Marcionism, after the heresiarch Marcion. He first proposed, in the 2nd Century, that the Old Testament was inspired by a completely different god, who was violent and vindictive, from the Father of Our Lord who is the source of Love, and so was to be rejected as having nothing to do with Christ. What makes the question above even more startling is that it I was asked by someone who professes to be a Christian. To be fair, it didn't seem to be their opinion, but they didn't want to upset any 'higher-ups' in their church because they're applying for ministry jobs. I know...that's actually worse, that those in charge of this church could be upset at the idea of the second half of the Bible being somehow related to the first. So much for being 'Bible Christians' eh?

Now, it's unlikely that you'll hear this from a Christian, but it is a common objection from people like Christopher Hitchens, who called Marcion a 'Church Father' (wrong!) in a Channel 4 documentary on the Ten Commandments presented by Anne Widdicombe. What are we to say to this idea, that the God of the OT is cruel and unusual, and the God revealed in Christ is a completely different, much nicer, God?

First, and most important with a lot of heresies, is to point out that it is, in fact, centuries old. Marcionism is almost as old as Christianity itself. So ask, do they really think they're the first person to have 'noticed' that the OT is somewhat different from the NT? Do they also think that no Christians have taken a crack at trying to explain that difference in the last 1,900 years? I suppose we can only hope that their answer is "No."

This brings us to an important principle in apologetics and evangelisation - famously stated as "to study history is to become Catholic." Blessed Newman exhorted his audiences in 'The Present Position of Catholics in England' to "know so much of history that they can defend it." Just as the error is ancient, so is the answer. One of the great things about being Catholic is that you don't have re-invent the wheel when it comes to answering these questions; someone probably wrote a great answer over a thousand years ago.

Which brings us to St. Irenaeus of Lyons, one of the early Fathers of the Church. He was from Asia, but became bishop of Lyons in France, and wrote one of the earliest works of Christian theology called Adversus Haereses, 'Against the Heresies'. He was writing in the middle of the 2nd Century, around the same time as Marcion was spreading his new ideas. Irenaeus deals with Marcionism in a very clear and logical way, espcecially in Book IV, Chapters 32 and 34 (don't worry, they're quite short. Such was Irenaeus' precision when dealing with falsehood!).

In Chapter 32, he relates that a priest who was a disciple of the Apostles, taught his students what the Apostles had taught him i.e. that both testaments (that is, covenants between God and man, and the documents which record them), are given for the good of mankind. The "first testament was not given without reason...[but] foreshadowed the images of those things which exist in the Church...and contained a prophecy of things to come." St. Irenaeus' source, as well as his teaching, is important. Bl. John Henry observed in his studies of the Church Fathers that they primarily relied on Sacred Tradition, the teaching handed on by the Apostles, to refute error, rather than passages of Sacred Scripture because the heretics themselves used Scripture as proof of their false ideas [see Newman's note 2 at the bottom of the page]. Logically, if it didn't come from the Apostles, it didn't come from Christ and the Holy Spirit, and was therefore made up.

Irenaeus does of course use passages of Scripture in defence of the Apostles' teaching. After all, if the point being advanced is the radical disticntion between OT and NT, 'old god' and 'new God', it would be important to demonstrate their unity from the texts in question. In Chapter 34, following on from his point in Ch. 32 regarding the prophecy of the OT, he rhetorically asks the Marcionites who the prophets were announcing if not Christ. If they were inspired by a completely different god as Marcion taught, they must have been anticipating the life of another person, who was a just king, who suffered, died and rose from the dead, while the same events also transpired in the life of Jesus! Clearly, this doesn't hold water. Not content with plain logic, he illustrates the case with quotes from the prophets, the Apostles' letters, and this coup-de-grace from the Lord Himself: "Think not that I have come to destroy the law or the prophets; I came not to destroy, but to fulfill," [Mt 5:17]. Again, if Jesus was the Son of a different God from that which gave the prophets their mission, why would He not come to destroy them and their cruel laws from their cruel God, rather being born a subject of that law?

Once more, we are led to an indispensable principle when trying to unpick any similar difficulties - "What Did Jesus Say?" or WDJS, for short. Alright, I made up the anagram, but the principle still applies. I suppose this is why you're not likely to hear this 'two separate stories' theory from a Christian, because they should know what Jesus thought and taught about this. Further to St. Irenaeus' example, this sprang to my mind from the end of St. Luke's Gospel: "Then he said to them: 'O foolish and slow of heart to believe in all things, which the prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and so enter into his glory?' And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures the things that were concerning him." [Lk 24:25-27, emphasis mine].

Seems pretty clear, right? Without doubt, there are things which are unpalatable or unsavory in the Old Testament to our modern tastes, just as there were to Marcion's tastes, but we risk making a mockery of Christ's mission of love (for He did not need to save us, or prepare us to be saved) if we reject the Old Testament out of hand. Let's encourage those who shy away from embracing the whole Truth, whether Christian or not, to see the object of all the Scriptures for who He really is-  the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, made flesh and dwelling among us.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

"We don't need to preserve anything, except the truth."

It's a long running tradition amongst my friends to go to the local pub after our mid-week Mass and Adoration. The time at church itself is meant to be a "haven in the middle of the week", in the words of our priest, and it really is. Likewise, the time spent together afterward, catching up, telling jokes, and making fun of ourselves, is the perfect compliment to the contemplative hour of prayer.

Being passionate and fairly well educated types, as the real ale flows (or strawberry beer for the philistines), these sessions sometimes turn into what I like to call 'Theology on Tap', after the actual 'Theology on Tap' events which started in Chicago. Unfortunately, our 'ToT' can get a bit fractious without the structured agenda, and when you throw in the cold beers, it can be a recipe for hot tempers. I'm getting better at recognising the effects of alcohol on me, and on others, and am not so easily baited as I once was, but generally, someone will say something that piques my critical interest.

So...the last time we were at the pub, one of the girls was talking about worship and liturgy, comparing traditional liturgy with praise-and-worship, and concluded with, "We don't need to preserve anything, except the Truth." I have heard similar remarks before, such as another friend telling me that we need modern praise-and-worship music in the Catholic Church because young people won't be drawn in by traditional music like chant and polyphony.

It does have an appealing simplicity about it, doesn't it? Blessed John Henry Newman said of the Popes that, "a great Pontiff must be detached from everything save the deposit of faith, the tradition of the Apostles, and the vital principles of the divine polity." Bl. JHN specifically lists "Basilicas and Gothic cathedrals" among the things upon which a Pope "will not rest his cause." Surely, such detachment from earthly things like liturgy, traditional sacred art and music and architecture, makes us freer to pass on the Truth in a manner more suited to the age?

Upon further reflection, there are a number of difficulties with this philosophy. As we shall see, it is almost impossible to separate the fullness of the Truth which is preserved in the Catholic Church, from the way in which it is preserved i.e. in its traditional liturgies.

The key principle here is Lex orandi, lex credendi "The law of prayer is the law of belief." At heart, this means two related things. First, the way we worship reflects what we believe already. Secondly, the way we worship informs what we believe. Liturgy "is therefore the privileged place for catechizing the People of God," - it is the premier way of teaching Christian Truth. So, it's reasonable to ask what effect doing away with, or changing, our long liturgical tradition would have on what we believe.

If we look at the whole of Christianity with Catholicism in the centre, and moving out from there to the churches with absolutely no liturgy at all, like the Salvation Army, passing Lutherans, Methodists, and Pentecostals on the way, do you notice anything? The further away you get from the tradition of liturgy, the further away you get from the fullness of the Truth which is presented to us in the liturgy. On this scale, we go from a church which believes what the Apostles were taught by Christ about eating His flesh, and expresses and teaches that belief in the Holy Mass, to one which disregards that ancient belief, and completely ignores the command to "do this in memory of me," and instructs its followers to do the same.

An example from history will also illustrate the point. During the so-called Reformation, the liturgy in England was vandalised - crucifixes were burned and empty crosses set up in their place, icons of angels and saints on the walls were white-washed, Latin chant outlawed. Now, growing up in a church like that, would you be likely to believe in the true importance of Christ's Passion, the communion of saints, or the universality of the Church? At a friend's wedding this summer, an Anglican friend of the groom told me that it was very clear that his church believed in an "English, middle class, right-handed sort of God." Not surprising, given their liturgical environment.

Another difficulty with this way of thinking is that it smacks of a common problem in modern Catholic circles - reductionism. This says that we should view as expendable everything except the bare necessities. Yet another Catholic friend was once a few sentences away from declaring that a priest in jeans and T-shirt, with any ol' wheat bread and grape wine, would still be a Mass, and all the other stuff was somehow optional.

I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like we're getting what we were promised by Jesus i.e. "life to the full". The juicy steak which is the fullness of the Truth comes with all the trimmings as standard. That's what makes it into a meal, rather than just plain rations. We might compare the reductionist attitude to asking, "What's the minimum amount I can love my wife and still be married?"

I like to think of it this way. The liturgy we have (i.e. Holy Mass and the Divine Office), is the 'pill' in which the Church delivers the 'medicine' of Scripture & Tradition (i.e. the Truth) to us. You can't take the medicine out of the pill and have the pill still work, and you can't get the medicine into the system without putting it in something which can be digested. The liturgy we have received from the Church, and the truth it communicates, are inextricably linked - the medium is part of the message. If you mess with the medium, which has happened a lot in the last 40 years, you can't help but alter the message.

Last, but not least, there is something to be said for preserving our Catholic culture for purposes of evangelisation: "In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art." [§12] Our mission as lay people is to bring people to the Faith, into the visible Body of Christ which is the Church. Their first encounter with that Faith will be the things they can experience, and the ancient practice of liturgy has a unique beauty about it - when they come into a Catholic church to witness Holy Mass, they should know that this event is like no other, and they can't get it anywhere else. Further, its beauty should have a definite 'vertical' quality about it - and there truly is something about the faint smell of incense and melted wax, richly embroidered vestments quietly rustling as the priest makes his way around the sanctuary, all to the other-worldly sound of chant washing over us from the choir, which makes us think of Heaven. (See Scott Hahn's book The Lamb's Supper for a wonderful analysis of how much like Heaven the Mass really is.)

If we change the Catholic way of worship to look more like Pentecostal, Baptist, or other evangelical worship, what are we telling the people we bring to Church? That all Christianity is the same, so it doesn't matter which one you go to, because they all basically believe the same (because they worship the same way - lex orandi, lex credendi). But we don't. To use horrible business language, if people can't distinguish our 'brand' from everyone else's, or even mere entertainment, then we're bound to be met with the reasonable objection, "What's the point of going to church?" Preserving, and to a certain extent rediscovering, a way of worshiping which is distinctly Catholic would be a great first step in fulfilling our evangelising mission.

Monday, 18 October 2010

"But no-one understands Latin!"

Yesterday I was enjoying dinner with four Catholic friends (Chicken and ham pie - awesome). I can't remember how we got onto this topic, but one of the girls mentioned that at her parents' parish, they have a Polish Mass, a Spanish Mass (for the Phillipinos), and an Italian Mass on a Sunday, not to mention the English Masses.

Before I go further, let me say I love Mass in the vernacular, and the Novus Ordo. I think in time the NO in the vernacular will prove itself as having tremendous missionary value, thinking especially of Pope Benedict's concern for re-evangelising Europe. I do recognise the distortions which have plagued (yes, plagued) the Ordinary Form, and hope to see in my lifetime a fuller realisation of what the Vatican Council Fathers wanted for the New Mass, in continuity with the great Catholic tradition of liturgy.

Ergo, upon hearing that one parish felt obliged to have four different Masses for four different communities, I was troubled. Is this one parish, or four? Is this Catholic, or even catholic, keeping the different nationalities separate by having separate Masses? Would it not be more Catholic (and catholic) for them to worship together? One solution to this is obviously for them to go to an English Mass; they are all living in England. Having had a glass of wine, though, I was feeling bold, and so what I said was...

"Well, they could have one Latin Mass, and everyone can have a Latin-to-whatever Missal, and then they can pray together. After all, Latin is the first language of the western Church." To this, the girl sitting next to me hit me on the head (which really annoyed me) and said in a patronising tone, as if I was stupid for having missed such an elementary problem, "Which no-one understands."

Have you ever encountered this before? It's an attitude which is wide spread, and crosses the generations; this girl is 20. My Mum said something similar when the family came to visit and went to Mass with me - "All that singing in Latin will put people off." Given that she said this about a congregation which has been singing the 'Holy, Holy' (the 'Sanctus') and the 'Lamb of God' (the 'Agnus Dei') for two years, I can only assume she meant, "It puts me off". Which leads us to my first observation about the rejection of Latin.

The first thing to understand is that the objection isn't about the fact that it's a different language. It's not that the people who object don't understand Latin; they just don't like it. How do we know that? First, I literally got hit in the head for suggesting its use at *gasp* Mass. Secondly, countless adults take language courses or buy phrase books, so that when they go on holiday to France, or Brazil, or Austria, they can speak the lingo. They don't instantly object to the difference in language, and then refuse to learn it as if it was unlearnable and will hear no more about it. Neither do children in secondary school react this way when they do foreign languages. Yet this is exactly what people do with Latin in the liturgy - they throw up their hands and say that people won't understand it, as if it was impossible to teach people a language they didn't already know, and refuse to listen to reasoned explanation. And it's not as if we're proposing testing them on the grammar.

Further, I'm sure those who object to the Latin Mass (I'm specifically talking about the Novus Ordo here), have a strange image in their head, of a Mass which is, from start to finish, incomprehensible because it's in Latin, or Greek for the 'Lord Have Mercy' (the 'Kyrie'). So, ask them how well they know the Mass in English. Do they know the I Confess? The Gloria? The Creed? Do they know the Our Father and the Hail Mary? And do they know when these occur in the Mass? If so, what difference does it to make to their active (i.e. interior) participation in the Mass if it's in Latin? None - they can still pray them. They might not know the words, but these can be learned easily, just like you learn a song - by listening to it and looking up the lyrics. This really only leaves the short opening prayer (the Collect), one of four Eucharistic prayers (the Canon), the short Post-communion prayer, and the readings which change week-on-week. And that's what Latin-to-whatever Missals are for. The people at my parish spend enough time looking at the weekly Mass sheet, so reading along during Mass can't be a problem either.

It is not entirely clear why Latin Rite Catholics would object to Latin in their Catholic rites, though I imagine there are complex reasons for it, ranging from the societal background radiation of 'dislike of old things' to the simple fact that multiple generations of Catholics have now reached adulthood without experiencing it, let alone being familiar with it. What is clear, however, is that the Second Vatican Council did not intend for Latin to become the exception. Indeed, the conciliar document about the sacred liturgy explains that the "Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites." [SC, 36.3]* For now, though, with patience and charity, we can help people get over their Latin hang-ups and recover some our lost Catholic heritage. Here, I think, building up familiarity is key. I've yet to hear anyone who protests the use of Latin similarly argue against the use of words like "Amen", "Alleluia", and "Hosanna" which have remained in the English translation of Mass. They don't reject these because they're used to them, and have come to understand them simply through that continued use.

*As an aside, I'm sure I'll have plenty of opportunity to write more about Vatican II, the malady of 'the spirit of Vatican II' and the remedy of actually reading what Vatican II wrote.