Say it ain’t so, Joe

February 19, 2013

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I’m sometimes asked by artless, though usually fairly harmless, people, “Are there some Church teachings you don’t believe?”  I resist the urge to respond with equal tactlessness, “Are there things about your wife you don’t love?”  The question itself reveals just how much political paradigms have distorted our ways of thinking and speaking about the Church, as if the deposit of faith were somehow equivalent to a party platform.

And yet—here you have it, Mr. Artless Questioner—this week I find myself ready to dissent publicly—for all the web to see—from an official act of the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff, the Successor of the Apostle Peter.

Benedict XVI, do you have to go so soon?

I agree, to be sure, with all the generous things that have been said about the pope’s decision—that it’s a selfless and humble act, the fruit of great prayer and faith, born out of a profound love of the Church.  Of course, it is.  And of course Pope Benedict is a better judge of his own limits and abilities than anyone else and is also in a better position to judge the needs of the Church than some two-bit blogger from South Dakota.

But still, I can’t help but thinking, Benedict at 75% is still better than most of us at 100%.  Who else combines Benedict’s spiritual and intellectual breadth and depth, his combination of scholarly incisiveness and gentleness of spirit?  Who else has better seen through the pomps and empty promises of secularism or proposed so insistently, so clearly their remedy—friendship with Jesus Christ?  Who else has Benedict’s sense of the liturgy, sense of history, sense of prayer?  Couldn’t he just stay on for another year or two?  Couldn’t he at least have waited until after finishing that encyclical on faith? Read the rest of this entry »


Virtues and thrones and dominions! Oh my!

January 31, 2012

Sometimes contributor to Whosoever Desires, Paddy Gilger, S.J., is behind a new Jesuit online venture, a new page called The Jesuit Post.  Yours truly has an article on the page, in which readers of Whosever Desires might be interested.  Here’s how it begins:

If you listened carefully to the new edition of the Roman Missal rolled out this Advent, you might remember hearing mention of a strange menagerie of heavenly creatures.

The Advent Prefaces to the Eucharistic Prayer—the part that begins “It is truly right and just” and ends with us all singing “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts”—invoke the songs of Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Dominions, and Powers; other Prefaces throughout the year throw in Virtues and Seraphim for good measure.  But what exactly are all these heavenly gizmos the priest is inviting us to join in acclamation?

It is perhaps best to start by pointing out that in this context, thrones are not chairs sat upon by kings; dominions are not regal estates; and virtues have nothing to do with the established habits of decent human beings.  All of these words refer to types of angels mentioned in Sacred Scripture.

Now I am no expert in either angelology – though I do like saying the word – or Biblical studies, but you don’t have to be a specialist to notice how thoroughly permeated with spiritual beings the world of the Bible is.  We tend to gloss over mention of the heavenly hierarchies these days, not talking about them much because of how foreign the notion of angels is to our own worldview.  And we don’t talk about thrones and dominions because, well, we don’t even know how to talk about them.

To continue, check out The Jesuit Post


Elijah the Prophet, Jesus the Lord

September 27, 2011

Today’s Gospel reading happens to correspond to a presentation that I recently made in one of my classes on Luke’s use of Elijah imagery in his Gospel.  Luke’s use of Elijah is complex.  He does not make a simply one-to-one typological correspondence, but rather seems as concerned to contrast Jesus and Elijah as compare them.  Luke contrasts Elijah and Jesus not to criticize Elijah, but rather to show that Jesus is something more than a prophet.  Jesus is the Lord, and a Messiah who will bring salvation to all people, not through violence but through the cross.

Jesus explicitly invokes Elijah (and Elisha) in Luke 4:16-30. Here, he reverses the people’s expectations that the Messiah would be a warrior king who would bring God’s blessings on Israel and his wrath on her enemies.  Jesus first reads a messianic passage from Isaiah about the blessings the Messiah will bring, and says that this passage is fulfilled in their hearing.  This accords with people’s hopes and expectations.  But then, he invokes Elijah and Elisha who gave God’s blessings to Gentiles, to say that God’s blessings will be extended outside of Israel.  This contradicts the people’s hopes and expectations about membership in the Kingdom of God, and provokes their wrath.

Again in Luke 7:11-17, the raising of the son of the widow of Nain, there are allusions to Elijah raising the son of the widow who fed him during the famine (1 Kings 17:17-24).  Here, though, there are notable discontinuities.  Elijah uses almost magical efforts to raise the boy–laying upon him and three times breathing upon him (according to the Greek Old Testament which Luke would have used), completed by a powerful plea to the Lord (kyrios in the Greek Old Testament) to raise the boy.  By contrast, Jesus simply commands the boy and he is raised.  Elijah must beg the Lord for the miracle, whereas Jesus simply commands.  Significantly, Luke calls Jesus only “kyrios” in this passage.  Elijah must call on the Lord, Jesus is the Lord. Read the rest of this entry »


The Chalice and Eucharistic Faith

September 26, 2011

Nathan said some important things about Bishop Olmsted’s recent decision in his post on Liturgical Minimalism in Phoenix.  I’ve got some different thoughts that I share here.

Even in this section of the GIRM dealing with “Communion Under Both Kinds” (281-287), there is much anxiety for the proper catechesis of the people about Eucharistic doctrine.

Rightly so, for the expansion of communion under both species was a stunning capitulation, in liturgical practice if not in theology, to Protestant arguments in favor of communion in both species.  The Catholic Church vigorously opposed these arguments for over 500 years, since the practice was condemned by the ecumenical Council of Constance in 1415 in response to the Utraquist controversy prompted by John Wyclif and John Hus.  Martin Luther listed the denial of both species to the faithful as one of three “captivities” of the sacrament of the Eucharist, along with the doctrine of transubstantiation and the sacrifical understanding of the Mass (James T. O’Connor, The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist, 2nd ed., Ignatius Press, 2005, 130-135).

The GIRM is concerned above all that the faithful be properly instructed on the lynchpin of the Catholic response as formulated at the Council of Trent, namely that:

 “Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under only one species, and consequently that as far as the effects are concerned, those who receive under only one species are not deprived of any of the grace that is necessary for salvation”  (282). Read the rest of this entry »


We believe. And so do I.

September 6, 2011

Among the sundry tasks with which my new assignment presents me is overseeing the transition to the new translation of the Roman Missal in the parishes of the Rosebud Reservation.  The transition here promises to be rather smoother than in other places, at least in part because the people here do not seem to have as many ideological hang-ups as their sibling Christians in certain other locales.  And many, particularly elders, already have experience praying in another language—Lakota—which gives them intuition into the reasons behind the change.  As a lay cantor who participated in a workshop on the new translations explained to me a few weeks ago, “Lakota is a very spiritual language, and we understand that when we translate into English something gets lost.”  The new translations are simply an attempt—imperfect, like all human endeavors—to recover a bit of what has been lost.

Among the complaints I’ve heard about the new translations from other sources is the objection that changing the Creed’s “We believe” to “I believe” diminishes the communal nature of the Mass.  In some ways this is a strange objection, since the Creed’s first line is one instance in which the 1973 translation simply gets the Latin wrong, something obvious to anyone celebrating Mass in another of the major modern languages, which correctly translate “Credo” into the first person singular.  Given that the 1973 English version is the outlier in this instance, there’s something self-defeating in defending a supposedly more communal word that in fact puts a distance between English speakers and the rest of the international Church.

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What do I offer?

April 6, 2011

I suggested at the beginning of Lent that this season is a good time to get back to basics, and for Catholics it doesn’t get more basic than the celebration of the Eucharist.  It’s well known that the Second Vatican Council called for the “full and active participation” of all the faithful in the Eucharist, but interpretations of what this phrase means have differed so widely that the Council’s vision hasn’t born the fruit we might have hoped for.  On the most basic measure of full and active participation—Mass attendance—we’re actually far worse off today than we were when the Council began.

For me this Lent has coincided with work on a master’s thesis about sacrifice and the Mass (some of the ideas for which I test drove here on Whoseoever Desires), and my research has raised a question so basic we usually forget to ask it:  what exactly do we do at Mass?

Answering that question depends on how we think about the Mass, what models we use to describe it.  An incorrect model for thinking of the Mass is that of a show or play.  Unfortunately, a lot of people fall into this kind of thinking.  I’ll sometimes hear complaints that Mass is boring, which doesn’t make sense because Mass isn’t supposed to be entertainment.  Even those who should know better sometimes fall into the trap of turning Mass into a kind of high school musical.  I once attended an Easter Vigil in which the man delivering the third reading dressed up as Moses—complete with beard, robes, and staff.  It almost made me root for Pharaoh.

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Are we there yet?

March 30, 2011

This Sunday at Mass you might notice an anomaly—pink vestments.  No, the Lenten vestments didn’t get ruined at the cleaner; the pink (technically “rose”) color means we’re halfway to Easter.

The fourth Sunday of Lent goes by the name “Laetare Sunday,” which comes from the Mass’s “indroit,” or opening antiphon, which begins “Rejoice, Jerusalem!”—in Latin, “Laetare, Jerusalem!”  We break out the rose on the third Sunday of Advent, too, when we’re over halfway to Christmas.

There’s something delightfully human in allowing ourselves a splash of rejoicing in the middle of this penitential season.  It’s sort of like stopping at the Dairy Queen for a sundae after passing the halfway point of a long road trip.  Of course, to my mind, Lent still is a joyful season, because penance can—and even should—be done with joy.  Good Friday is a day of mourning because that too is a part of the human experience, but penance does not mean sadness.

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