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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Should a FREEDOM of Liturgical Forms Be Permitted?

I have not really said much about this issue because, to be frank, it befuddles me. As a whole it seems to me that the accommodation made possible by Pope Benedict XVI was working. Given the many challenges facing the Church, I really have not discerned any pressing need as did Pope Francis to restrict the old liturgical form. Those who are sowing the seeds of disharmony are largely not among our priests or in the parishes where the traditional and reformed order of the Mass are offered.

I would urge the Holy See to set its sights on the SSPX that has consistently spurned overtures for reunion and gives its own spin on what it can and cannot legitimately do. I suspect that come the next illicit episcopal ordination, they will return to their status as an excommunicated schismatic group. They might wrongly malign Vatican II for the excesses of a few but they are arrogantly blind to their own growing heresy against ecclesial communion given both papal and conciliar authority.

The current papal measure is needlessly hurtful to good people and places organizations like the Fraternity of St. Peter into a precarious and painful position given that they are faithful both to the old form and to the successors of St. Peter.

The permissive stance of Pope Benedict XVI actually reflected a toleration that existed prior to Trent where there were a great many local or national adaptations of the Western or Roman liturgy. This FREEDOM or liberality gave richness to the liturgical tradition. Given the ravages of the Protestant reformation, the Church literally circled the wagons to defend herself. The reforms after the council permitted a few adaptations in local churches or among orders, but generally through dropping and combining elements sought a liturgy that would apply to the whole Church.

Vatican II sought ways in which to better share the faith and the worship of the Church with the modern world. Signs of the coming apostasy and defection were already in the air prior to the council and the reforms. We can argue as to whether or not Vatican II was effective to deal with modern challenges but it was not the absolute catalyst for the problems faced in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Certain traditionalist critics stamp the reforms as heretical or as a type of Modernism. What they seem to forget is that the heresy of Modernism infected the Church and clergy back when the Mass was offered in Latin and according to the old form. Indeed, it was admitted by the Modernist founder Alfred Loisy that he was rigidly faithful to the rubrics of the old Latin Mass even after he had long since stopped believing.

While the accidentals vary, the heart or meaning of the old and the new form of the Mass as true divine worship is the same— a sacramental re-presentation of our Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary in an unbloody manner; an oblation in which we offer ourselves grafted to our high priest Christ as an acceptable gift to the Father; and as a sacred meal through which we receive and are transformed by the “real presence” of the risen Christ (whole and complete) in Holy Communion.

The first Mass was offered in Aramaic and Hebrew as were the Jewish liturgies in Jerusalem. Later the Mass was largely offered in the Greek of the Hellenic gentiles. The witness of Peter and Paul, along with the many martyrs to follow, would lead by God’s grace to the conversion of an empire. The language of Rome became the voice of the Church. Latin became the mother tongue of the Church and the Mass. The languages of men were subject to change but the Latin remained the same. Just as Latin was the vernacular for the Romans, the Church after Vatican II wanted to make room in the liturgy for the vernacular of the many peoples who populate the Church today. Latin will always be the sacred language of the Church; but any and all languages that give praise to God can become holy vehicles for the divine.

No Ordination for Women Deacons

This whole business about women forbidden to serve in the Catholic Church is a lot about nothing.  Women have served in many ways over the last two thousand years and as daughters to the Blessed Mother they have imitated her as handmaids of the Lord.  The problem is not a lack of opportunity but the wrong mindset that is amplified by contemporary society.  Service today is increasing equated with headship and power.  Such a mentality is even problematical for men called to holy orders as they should first see themselves as servants of the Lord and slaves for their people.  Christ turns the worldly notion of power on its head; such is the witness of the Holy Thursday foot washing.   

Like celibate clergy, our religious sisters and nuns have certainly signified (in an official manner) the presence of Christ and the activity of his Church.  The problem with Ms. Casey Stanton (co-founder of Discerning Deacons) and those laywomen like her is that they want clerical standing for a part-time commitment or job in the Church.  As a lay chaplain she could still work for the Church; indeed, given recent changes by Pope Francis, those like her in the future might serve as official Readers, Acolytes and now Catechists.  Her lack of clerical standing is no barrier to personal overtures of “encouragement, love and healing.”  Any argument to the contrary is deceptive nonsense.

Just because North Carolina requires chaplains in state prisons to be ordained is no concern of the Catholic Church.  The state cannot dictate to us who we should or should not ordain.  In any case, we would grant no official standing to the ordinations of Protestant ministers.  The issue here is apples and oranges.  We do not ordain women as priests because our Lord has not clearly established such jurisdiction for the Church.  The diaconate is intimately connected to the priesthood and is not comparable to the deaconesses in the early Church.  Indeed, women religious are likely their successors and the label or name was dropped to avoid confusion.  Stanton, like many other laypeople might have degrees in religion, but this does not qualify her for ordination in any capacity. 

The article states, “Up until the 12th century, the Catholic Church ordained women deacons, although by then their service was mostly restricted to women’s monasteries.” This is not strictly true.  There was a ceremony of installation but there was no ordination into holy orders or one of the seven sacraments.   The Council of Nicea directly forbade the laying on of hands or the ordination of women.  This is an unbroken tradition from the earliest days of the Church.  We might research the matter, as the Pope has suggested, but the matter of ordination is fixed and will not change.  There is no evidence that New Testament deaconesses were ever ordained.  Ecclesial nomenclature was still evolving and the term “deaconess” was simply applied to women who out of propriety assisted with female neophytes prior to baptism or in some cases were the spouses of deacons.  Despite the arguments of authorities like Phyllis Zagano, many of us would see efforts to ordain women as deacons as a break from our tradition and the beginning of a severance from apostolic succession.

Crucial Connection between Religion & Spirituality

Can there be legitimate spirituality segregated from religion?

Catholicism would contend that genuine spirituality must emanate from that which is religiously true. Otherwise, it constitutes false worship or superstition.  We do not pray to any fertility goddess or to the four winds or to anything else of the sort.  We invoke the intercession of the saints but repudiate the worship of voodoo and New Age angel worship.  We do not worship the sun in the sky or accept that our lives are predetermined by the heavenly constellations as in astrology.  We do not pamper ourselves with the narcissism of paid motivational speakers that substitute slogans and psychology for faith and prayer.   

As Catholics, we see the Church as both a human and a divine institution. She is both entrusted with the saving message and the vessel established by Jesus to ferry us to the promised shore.  Our Lord gave us the Eucharist as our rations to sustain us on the journey.  Catholic spirituality finds it core in the Eucharist and the Church that gives us the sacraments.  The human side of the Church is liable to sin. Such is an immediate connection to the great commission— we are commanded to call sinners into our ranks.  The divine side of the Church is the source of holiness. Both Christ and his Church is the Way.  The Church is not viewed as an optional construct for purposes of fellowship but is esteemed as the great mystery or sacrament of salvation instituted by Jesus Christ.

Christianity takes a hardline against alternative movements such as oriental, new age, and nature spiritualties. While tolerant of others, the faith would insist that believers find their spiritual strength and solace in the Christian kerygma. Ultimately this comes down to a profound appreciation of the sanctifying movement of the Holy Spirit, the redemptive mediation of Christ and the fatherhood of almighty God. Catholicism is intensely communitarian as our Lord identifies himself with his Church as his mystical body. This is where the connection is made with the Blessed Mother Mary and the sanctoral intercession of the saints. Within the history of the West there have been a number of spiritual doctors and movements that reflect these truths, such as Augustinian, Franciscan, Dominican and Ignatian (Jesuit) spiritualties.

The reference to “oriental” spiritualties might wrongly be interpreted as a slur given a secondary dictionary definition that reflects current ethnic insecurities and excessive sensitivity.  Polite conversation and discourse is frequently made impossible by an unrestrained passion to argue.  Such belligerence has infected both political and religious interchanges. What is meant here is no slander but a shortcut to listing Eastern religions or philosophies = Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, etc. The term is typically used in religious dialogue. It can also refer to Oriental churches which are the Catholic and Orthodox churches of the East. We should remember that dictionaries like Webster tend to restrict themselves to pedestrian definitions.

When this discussion emerged online, another critic lamented that there was a downplaying of Judaism in my appraisal of spirituality.  This was not my intent.  Christian and Jewish spirituality are not the same but they both find their root in the revelation of the true God and his promise to his people. Catholicism regards Judaism as true religion and the precursor for Christianity. Pope Benedict XVI argued that we are both people of the one covenant. We claim Abraham as our spiritual father in faith. The psalms from the Hebrew Scriptures constitute a staple of prayer for Catholics used in the Mass and daily prayer. Any Catholic who would claim Christ might be regarded as a spiritual Hebrew. Antisemitism would be regarded as a terrible sin, not only against the Jewish people but against the very foundations of Christianity.

Just as there are varying definitions or appreciations of religion, similarly there is diversity in any appreciation of accompanying spirituality.  The Christian tends to view spirituality and prayer as directed to holiness and union with almighty God.  There is a great deal of authentic variation, some stressing the imagination, others rational reflection and still others a select brand of piety. The traditions of faith, liturgical worship and the transmission of the Scriptures immediately link Catholics to the Church. 

While Christian voices would urge against it, there are a number of Eastern and/or New Age religions that are pursued for some proposed spiritual benefit today by people in the West. Christianity takes exception to popular elements like pantheism and animism that are inimical to the faith. Most secular spirituality would likely propose adherence to a humanistic philosophy lacking adherence to any creed.  Such might denote introspection, as to oneself be true.  It might denote a connection to others or to nature or to the cosmos.  It might imply a tenuous relationship with something greater than ourselves but unnamed. 

No doubt frustrated by the shenanigans of “right-wing Christians,” one critic remarked in an online discussion that there is nothing worse than a “God told me” Christian.  However, worse would be a God that is utterly silent. Prayer and spirituality is signified by a two-way dialogue or relationship. It is not a one-way soliloquy. That mentality sets the stage for deception and charges of atheism.

What the Catholic Church would propose, especially for believers, she would not force upon those outside her ranks. We respect the conscience and religious liberty of persons even if we disavow the associated sects.  Ecumenical dialogue invites but it does not impose. Just as with this post and comments, there is a sharing of my faith’s perspective and our diversity— not immediately for conversion but hopefully for greater mutual understanding. We can become friends even if we have substantial disagreements. Doors are opened.   Accomplished within the context of peace and respect for persons, it is our hope that the witness and the testimony of the Christian faith would have a compelling power to draw people to Christ and the Church.