Friday, September 20, 2002

HMS Blog is having a slugfest over the genuflecting before receiving Communion issue. What do I prefer? I prefer to kneel at the altar rail to receive Communion. That's my favorite act of reverence and one that has centuries of history behind it. When I have to queue, I prefer the profound bow because a) it is recommended and b) it doesn't call undue attention to myself, whose otherwise lack of obvious piety might be a scandal to others.

A story, I once made the mistake in a Roman parish of crossing my hands across my breast to receive Communion. This is the traditional act of reverence for Eastern Catholics (and a gesture I really like) Apparently, though, in the West this gesture means "I'm not going to receive, just give me a blessing," so the priest tried to give me a blessing and I had to tell him, "I'm receiving." It was a little embarrassing.

Probably what turned me off to kneeling to receive in a situation when most others stand was a woman I knew when I was volunteering in Appalachia in the early 1980s. She was a very ostentatiously devout middle-aged woman who was always trying to convert us recent college grad volunteers to her brand of piety. She wore a rosary around her neck, wore a veil to go to Mass, recited all 15 decades of the Rosary daily, etc. She changed her name to reflect her Marian devotion (I won't tell you her name, but it was different than the one she was baptized with). She also knelt to receive Communion when the rest of us (often admittedly lacking in devotion and piety) young people would walk up as we had done in our parishes at home. Well, I just couldn't warm to her zealotry. It seemed to be all about her and her spiritual superiority and not about Christ and His love for us inept spiritual schleps. What did I think of her at the time? I thought she was a flake. Why did I think that? Because, she was a flake.

Now, before you get all bent out of shape, I am not saying that people who genuflect or kneel are flakes. As a matter of fact, I agree with Greg Popcak that if they were to recommend or mandate it, I'd be the first to comply. It REALLY seems like a good idea to me. I just think that people who are unnecessarily ostentatious about their own piety distract others from what they should be focusing on.

Decorum may not be the highest liturgical value, but it is a liturgical value.
Telepathy and the Lidless Eye
I am simply amazed at the telepathic ability of so many Catholics. They seem so at ease explaining the motives for the behaviors of those they criticize that they must have an inside track into interior life of those unfortunate enough to be visited by their withering gaze. Two examples from liturgical piety should suffice to illustrate my point.

Receiving Communion in the hand: Is it really a sign of irreverence? How do we know the interior attitude of those who receive Communion in ways other than our preferred way? I received Communion in the hand for about 25 years before I returned to the more traditional practice. I switched with hopes that the practice would increase my sense of reverence and devotion, which at the time seemed somewhat attenuated. What I have found out is that my sense of reverence does not seem to have improved after taking up the "old" practice. In fact, I am still not comfortable with it, even though I've been doing it for several years now. I am much more comfortable (and am perfectly able to have a reverent attitude) when receiving in the hand. Will I return to receiving in the hand? Probably not. My family receives on the tongue and I would not want to stand out like that. But I will never assume that people who receive in the hand are more likely to have less reverence or less belief in the Real Presence than myself. Why? Because I know that I haven't changed much in that regard since taking up the traditional practice.

Eucharistic fast: Here's a good one. Some people still fast from midnight before receiving Communion. This is a very worthy and commendable practice, one that I should probably take up. But, those of us who don't practice it, and who pretty much stick to the 1 hour fast, are not automatically less devout than those who fast from midnight. It would be a shame for someone who fasts from midnight to see someone scarfing down a donut an hour before going to Mass and saying, "Gee, he's not very devout."

Obedience to legitimate authority is a perfectly good act of devotion. The Church, of course, does not demand that we eat before receiving Communion, but the freedom of the Sons of God leaves it up to us to work out how best to approach the Altar within the confines of the minimal demands the Church makes. Maybe, just maybe we should leave the judging to God, who knows the interior lives of those we'd like to condemn to additional centuries in purgatory for their impiety.
MUST HAVE books for Catholics
Here is a list of books that ALL Catholics ought to own, be familiar with and use regularly. A copy of each should exist in every Catholic household:

A Catholic translation of the Bible
A Sunday missal with readings
A weekday missal with readings
A one-volume Divine Office includes a complete morning and evening prayer
(The four volume set for the really hard core among you)

The Documents of the Second Vatican Council
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
The Code of Canon Law
A comprehensive, historically responsible lives of the saints.

I feel a STRONG compulsion to add The Lord of the Rings, (I'm beginning to feel like Dr. Strangelove.)

Note how much of this is available on line! So, if you are reading this, you practically have the whole library at your fingertips.

Am I missing anything? Comments, anyone? Or anytwo?

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Mercedes re-revisited ("all over again" to quote Yogi Berra)
First, it was nice to see that Emily Stimpson (in apparent ignorance of my post here) was looking to Brideshead Revisited in an effort to better understand Greg's point.

Second, I think the whole question of how high to raise the bar is a red herring. The bar should be only as high as the reality of the Church requires. Period. I really think that is what Greg is saying. In other words, a lower bar than the nature of the sacraments and the life of the Church requires is a betrayal of the reality of the Church and of the Gospel. And this is what happens a lot these days.
Reverence for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament

Emily Stimpson asks on HMS Blog:

In the days before the Council, was there a deep desire among Catholics to rip out the altar rails, stand before the priest, and receive the Eucharist in the hands? How did people react when that change came?

I only ask, because the University, in response to a recent statement from the bishops, is cracking down on students who genuflect before or kneel during reception of the Eucharist. The majority of students here are not happy about that. We all grew up doing the shuffle, shuffle routine and find genuflecting or kneeling far more helpful in preparing our bodies and souls to receive Christ. I still haven’t quite figured out why the Church did away with this form of reverence in the first place, and am curious to hear your thoughts, memories, etc.

From what I understand, the norms call for an act of reverence prior to receiving the communion. They don't say what that act of reverence is. The bishops have the authority to regulate that norm. They have ruled that kneeling or genuflecting is not an appropriate act at that time because it is disruptive and calls too much attention to one's self (at least it would at most parishes).

Prior to Vatican II the act of reverence was to kneel at the altar rail and stick out your tongue. After the Council many parishes did away with the altar rail and began the queue. I'm fortunate enough to attend a parish that still has and uses the altar rail, although I'm not adverse to using the queue, especially here at the seminary where there is no rail.

What are acceptable acts of reverence? For one of the Church fathers it was holding your two hands together in the shape of a cup in which to receive and worship our Lord. For myself, I prefer a (permissible) profound bow when I have to use the queue.

I am actually of the opinion, though, that the kneeling and reciting of the "Domine non sum dignus" qualifies as an act of reverence.

This reminds me of a debate that erupted in the early years of the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church. The question arose: If the bishop were to tell a prayer group to stop praying in tongues, should they stop? There was a fairly heated debate about this one, some groups opting for (theoretical) defiance because tongues was so obviously from the Lord. The other group (whom I agree with) said, "No, as Catholics we have to submit to legitimate pastors, then if we disagree with their pastoral judgment we need to take advantage of legitimate channels to voice our disagreement."

Long and short of it: The bishops have the authority to regulate this norm and the students and others owe them the obedience due legitimate pastors. They also have the canonical right to express their concerns about the regulation to their pastors. I think it is not a legitimate option to publicly defy the clear directive of the bishops

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

The Church in the hands of the potter
Today we had a special reading at Mass from Jeremiah (18:1-6). It makes a good meditation for those of us who are "uncomfortable" with the "reshaping" the new "House of Israel" is going through these days:

1 This word came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
2 Rise up, be off to the potter's house; there I will give you my message.
3 I went down to the potter's house and there he was, working at the wheel.
4 Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me:
6 Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done? says the LORD. Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.

Especially note the line, "Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased." Is this not precisely what the Church in America is going through?


What's stopping all Christians from being united?
A phrase from a hymn we sang at Mass today speaks of "You are the Word who calls us to be one." It occurred to me when I heard that line that God has given us EVERYTHING necessary to be united in Christ. If there is disunity among Christians, it is not because we don't have the supernatural resources to overcome our divisions. It is certainly not because Christian unity is a process that is not meant to be fully achieved until the parousia. Through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus and in the Holy Spirit God has "broke down the dividing wall of enmity" between peoples (Eph. 2:14). All that is preventing us from being one is our own sinfulness and stubbernness. For some it is an intellectual sin, for others it is an attachment to a moral defect. At any rate, we are all accomplices inasmuch as we are not yet saints.
Mercedes Revisited (with apologies to Evelyn Waugh)
One correspondent writes:

The example Robert gives about telling somone they "will have to 'regularlize' your marriage and go to confession" is a false offering. This assumes their marriage can be regularized. What about the Mercedes of, you will have to break off your adulterous relationship (that is, your second marriage) and go to confession? Why is it that the bar is only being set a certain height. (After all, the indissolubility of marriage is the absolute hinge for Brideshead Revisited).

I don't know in what sense it is a false offering since it is a true experience of mine.

The example the correspondent offers is a different one and, of course, more difficult, since in order to regularize his relation to the Church he'd have to get a civil divorce, if an annulment of the first marriage were not possible. The solution is for the person to continue to attend Church, but not receive the sacraments. This is a very difficult position to be in psychologically and would require a great deal of pastoral sensitivity on the part of the pastors of the Church. But it would not involve the kind of nod and wink that Cardinal Kasper seems to want for the Church in Germany (My apologies if my understanding of Kasper's position is erroneous).

I often think of the example of one of my favorite professors in college (requiscat in pacem!). His love for the Church was very evident. He could think of himself as nothing but Catholic. Yet, he did not agree with the Church's teachings on birth control, and so--get this--stopped going to the sacraments. His integrity did not allow him to approach the altar while at the same time engaging in a practice that was explicitly condemned by the Church's magisterium. Would that others had as much integrity! I can only hope and pray that the good professor's obedience of his conscience was in good faith and that God will honor his commitment to the truth as he saw it.

Keep in mind that Grace is bigger than the sacramental system. God's knowledge of people's interior state is such that He may well shower with grace those that the Church falsely deprives of the sacraments. For all we know, they will have seats of honor in the Kingdom.

It seems to me that access to the sacraments is not a universal human right, but is a right for those who are either a) in a state of grace or b) interested in being in a state of grace. For the latter, one must have a clear intention of trying to conform one's life to the demands of the Church. I don't think canon law contradicts that.

I'd also say that the priest in The Power of the Glory is a special case because he is a minister as well as a member of the faithful.
Names for God
As Fr. John Courtney Murray points out in The Problem of God, one of the recurring questions that haunts mankind is, "What do we name God?" The story I read from Genesis about Jacob wrestling with the angel in the desert (Gen. 32:23-32) is relevant here.

I'm also reminded of my childhood. My grandmother and grandfather on my mother's side were Ruth and Bernard. They lived in a white, two-storey house on a five-acre plot just north of the Capitol building in Oklahoma City (aka Redneck City). We always called them Munder and Burnder. These names of affection came from the typical three-year-old blunder of my older sister. When she was little she used to hear my grandmother call from the kitchen for her husband in the barn. She'd say "Bern-ERD!" So Helen would call him "BurnDER!" Then when Burnder would call "Mo-THER!" Helen thought he was saying "Mun-DER." as a kind of similar word to Burnder. Thus, terms of affection are born!

This is like our theological and religious language for God. It is our attempt to articulate what we hear God saying of himself. We get it kind of right. So the words we use somehow reflect the reality of who God is, of his real name, but because of our limited understanding, it is not the full and proper name. But then, the words we do use reflect not only our feeble attempts to understand, but our affection for God and in a sense His affection for us. It helps establish an intimate relationship with God as we use our "special" language for the One we love, the best language we can come up with.

This is like Jesus using the word "Abba" or "daddy" when referring to His Father.
Dorothy Day on the Poor
Has she been canonized yet?
Mercedes Principle
There is a debate going on at HMS Weblog about what Greg Popcak calls the Mercedes Principle. This is a principle from sociology that holds that people are more attracted to things if they are more costly. In applying this to Catholicism, Greg makes the point that in America we often softpedal the demands of the faith in order to get or keep people in. (I see this happening all the time in regards to young people, especially the Church's teachings on sexuality and abortion.) Amy Welborn is concerned, however, that such a principle is often used to punish misbehavior on the part of marginal people.

A extended meditation on the Mercedes Principle in action is Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. In this story a wealthy English family struggles with the hard (but ultimately compassionate) demands of the Catholic Church. Each member of the family must reconcile what he has made of his life with what he knows the Church demands of him, often leading to very messy and traumatic events. One gets the impression that if it weren't for the Church and her demands, the family would have simply imploded. Or would have been a shell with a rotten core. One of Waugh's side themes, by the way, is that this is precisely what those who do NOT cling to the Church do. They either become beasts or hollow men. This is a kind of sideswipe at Anglicanism, I believe.

I especially think of the deathbed scene when the family brings a priest to the father who has been estranged from the Church for years because he has been living away from the family with a mistress. The, you'll just have to read it.

I'd say in the end that the Church must be true to herself in her efforts to transform individuals. So, yes, there are some demands that many people, though people of good intent, will not be willing to make. As long as the Church acts with compassion (and compassion is part of the message), she has to leave with the Triune God always active in the world the kind of response people will make to her overtures. Not all will enter. Not all will stay in. Those that don't will not be denied the grace necessary for their salvation, should they choose to cooperate with it.

Note: I know many people who are in irregular situations in regard to the Church. One thing I find difficult is challenging them to return to the Church when at the same time the pastors of the Church are giving them Church Lite. So I say "Start going to Church again, but you'll have to regularize your marriage and start going to confession before you can receive communion," but that is NOT the message they get from the pastor, who seems to have a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" policy about people's personal lives.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Jung and Christianity
My daughter is doing a senior paper on Christian womanhood (Ah! the glories of home schooling!) As a resource for her I checked out a book by Ronda Chervin called Feminine, Free & Faithful. One thing I notice is that she relies somewhat on the wholeness theory of Carl Jung. Over the years I have become very skeptical about the applicability of Jungean ideas to Christianity, especially after having read Richard Noll's The Jung Cult. I've had arguments with some fellow orthodox theologians about this. I also noticed that those charismatics who relied most heavily on Jung also tended to drift into a kind of new agy spirituality, with a lot of imaging and dream work and all that. What do you average of 15 who read me daily think about this?

By the way, does anyone have any other suggestions for resources for my daughter's paper? I've had her read Mulieris Dignitatem.

Monday, September 16, 2002

Baby Boomers replace Ideals for Virtues thus completely mucking up the whole end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st
Of course, I didn't think of it, Kairos did:

So much of what has gone wrong with America’s ability to lead in the world stems from the substitution of “ideals” for “virtue,” as in the replacement of “Justice” with “peace.” Ideals in and of themselves have little or no moral value. “Peace” cannot be understood as either good or bad without modification: “just” or “unjust;” whereas justice either is, or is not.
Venerable teachers
There is one thing that I simply cannot be is a venerable teacher. I can be a good teacher, perhaps (I'm not saying that I am, but it is theoretically possible for a young teacher to be a good one). But, to be a venerable teacher (and hence a great one), one needs to mull over his material for years. As James Schall says in the essay cited below:

There is a kind of "anti-wisdom" in academia today. The concern is with young professors, new things. And there is nothing more exhilarating than a young man or woman just out of graduate school, someone who has really learned something. I just read a doctoral thesis on Strauss from the University of Adelaide in Australia that was positively thrilling. But there are some things that require years of going over again and again. Plato died when he was 81.

I have read the CCC about four times now. I've read the four constitutions of Vatican II about 4 times. This does not qualify me to be an expert on them. I don't imagine that I will be truly insightful about them until after about 20 years of teaching them. They are SO rich!

The archetypal venerable teacher for me was Edward Cronin, of the Program of Liberal Studies at Notre Dame. He had mulled over the great books for decades and was so immersed in them that almost every word he said about them was a pearl of wisdom. One was especially in awe when he commented on the text of Ulysses, his specialty. He was inside the story. One could really feel his sorrow over Joyce's apostasy.

With grace and perserverence I hope to be a venerable teacher in a few decades.