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No More Lay Preachers in Rochester

The march toward great orthodoxy and unity in the Church continues. After some 40 years of violating Church law, the diocese of Rochester will no longer allow the laity to usurp priests and deacons in preaching homilies at Mass. The thanks goes out to Bishop Salvatore Matano for insisting that canon and liturgical law be followed. He stated, “It is not a policy shift as regards to the universal law of the church. I am trying to help the faithful understand what is the universal law of the Church and how important it is that in the celebration of Mass, we do what the Church asks of us.”

I well remember Bishop Matthew Clark who started the deviation. He was regularly invited to give talks by the progressive or liberal staff at CUA when I was a student many years ago. He even gave us a retreat where he speculated about women priests and about how a priestly calling might be a temporary vocation and that God might later call some men to other things. I was young but shocked by the statement.

In any case, it looks like the compass in Rochester is returning to the proper settings of the universal Church. Now comes the hard work, not just of correcting abuses, but reforming hearts and minds. People will be hurt and disappointed, especially the women who made up the majority of the lay homilists. But where one door closes, others are opened. Hopefully these women will not feel discarded or alienated. Inclusion and empowerment was never dependent upon the clericalization of the laity. I have confidence that the bishop will find a way to involve these women, with their theology degrees and gifts, in the building up of the Church. God forbid that they should walk away from the Church that has always been their home.

Mass Attendance & Catholic Identity

Are any of us really surprised by decreasing Mass attendance? While I would not want to fall prey to any kind of faithless cynicism, I am often more astonished about why people continue to practice their faith. We are suffering from several generations of poor catechetical formation and Catholics who have lost a sense of their faith identity. The Ordinaries of the Archdiocese of Washington have honestly faced the problem.  Offering remedies, I am reminded of Cardinal McCarrick’s vibrant preaching and Cardinal Wuerl’s effectiveness as a teacher of faith.  They have prescribed what they could to help: breaking open the Scriptures, stirring the people to holiness, and showing how the faith has meaning and importance in their lives. Priests have sought to imitate this pattern in their religious education programs and in the messages from the pulpit.

However, there are many baptized Catholics who rarely or no longer attend Mass. Some shop around and find religious meaning in other churches. Many, perhaps the larger share, drop out entirely. Children might go to Catholic schools, but the majority is missing from the pews on Sunday. When I was at St. Mary’s in Upper Marlboro, MD, in the 1990’s, I polled the sixth grade about their Mass attendance. One week only two kids out of thirty-five had gone to church— and everyone was from a home with at least one Catholic parent. Of these two, one had gone to the Evangelical church of her father. Only one went to Sunday Mass. I am making no exaggeration. This is the state of affairs and things have worsened in light of the scandals. Those upon whom we had only a tenuous hold are escaping the grasp of the Church.

I recall being party to a group of priests discussing the situation.  What could we do to turn matters around?  A number of the guys mentioned accidentals: music, welcoming, fellowship, good preaching, etc. We seemed to forget that the exodus escalated back in the 1960’s when the ancient form of the liturgy with its ritual beauty and religious chant was shelved for experimental forms. Faithful Catholics remained with the Church despite bland prayers and trite music. However, as that generation has aged and died off, younger people found Catholic worship to be a poor imitation of what Protestants can offer. Even our small African-American churches with their Gospel Masses have borrowed the music and style of the Protestant Black churches. If our accent is simply upon such accidentals and entertainment, we are bound to fail. The new mega-churches put on a much better show and without the restraints of Catholic ritual or the appeals to a moral code that has been rejected out-of-hand. One of these local Protestant churches can hold 10,000 people and the number of annual converts dwarfed what the entire Archdiocese brought in through the RCIA.  Of course, we have more than a “come-on-down” attitude.  We require months of study and reflection.  Some say that we make it too hard to be a Catholic.  And yet, others like the fact that we insure people know what they are embracing.

While certainly we should make our churches welcoming places where the liturgies are well done and the preaching is moving and authentic, we will have to find new and more aggressive ways of reaching the hearts and minds of people who no longer enter our doors. If people truly believe that every Mass is a sacramental encounter with the living Christ, then we would not have the current decline in participation. People do not understand the Eucharist at the heart of our faith. It is here where we find Jesus most present, the one who gives meaning to our lives as well as mercy and healing. We need to rediscover our own evangelistic spirit and promote in every forum possible a genuine Christian formation. A corrective will be truly holy priests who offer reverent liturgies where we discover and celebrate the mystery of God. The corrected translation of the prayers is a great help.  The poison of dissent and spiritual laziness, even among priests, must be rooted out. When the tides of change, indifference and pain assault us all, the ark of Peter is the only sure refuge.  Shepherds must make a courageous stand for the Gospel of Life, without compromise, so as to compel people to make a choice for Christ’s kingdom or for the secular castles in the sand. Priests must also inform and empower the laity to render a credible witness.  They can reach people where the clergy are unable to go.  Our Lord, himself, sent out the seventy to spread the saving Word.

Discussion on the Post

AMBER:

Your entry brought to mind my thankfulness for my Protestant beginnings. I “get it” (so to speak) and will work diligently to be sure my children are properly taught the faith. I do not want them to grow up and become complacent.  I think, while the Church should play a role in this, the parents are the key to ensuring that our children continue in the faith when they are no longer under our roof.

The parish I attend is wonderful in many ways but the music is seriously lacking and I very much miss the music from my Protestant church. How I would love to attend a Mass in which we have the richness of classical baroque… something that moves the soul to a deeper meeting with God.

Unfortunately, many Protestant churches have replaced the altar for a stage and communion for a sermon… and they are missing the essentials of worship… to meet our Lord in the Eucharist… and to be in His presence.

I could never go back.

COLOSSUS:

Father Joe, you say a lot here that has been on my mind lately. I’m 42, a lifelong Catholic, and am only now beginning to realize how central the faith is to everything.

“Poor catechetical formation,” that says just about everything. I am going through reading the actual Catechism (the JP II revision) and find that it offers a coherent, well-reasoned, and deep view of the world. I am exploring the Tridentine Mass and daily/nightly prayer in both English and Latin.

It is as if I have lived my whole life inside a bank and have been complaining of poverty, without ever having asked “By the way, what’s in the vaults?”

I am enjoying your site, too!

CLIFF:

Part of the problem lies in some of standards of our CCD instruction. In our parish I would venture to say that more than half don’t even know their basic prayers or even how to say a rosary. The other thing is what they learn (or do not learn) from their parents.  If they don’t attend Mass or practice their faith, what can you expect from their children?

MARY:

I served as an extraordinary minister for several years at our church. When you have to prepare the hosts for Mass you really notice the attendance dropping. We have over 50 ministries at our church and are considered a “thriving” parish. However I have noticed that the “wine was running short.” I asked the pastor, of all the groups that get together at the parish, are there any who pray for the people of the parish? He said no. This disturbed me greatly. Nothing happens without prayer. God wants to pour out his grace on His people. He gave us the free will to choose. All we have to do is ask. I

We see in God’s creation an example of how the enemy robs our life from us. Many plants that are edible have poisonous look-alikes. One is life giving and one brings only death.

For a long time I have been walking around in a “false humility and a false spirit of poverty.” In the spiritual world these things misrepresent true humility and truly being poor in spirit. One is life giving the other brings only death. Just like the plants. God is not as concerned about the people who do not attend church. He is more concerned about the ones that do, and consider themselves to be righteous. Like I use to.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists four reasons why God became man:

  • To reconcile human beings to God the Father
  • That we might know God’s love
  • To be our Model of holiness
  • To make us partakers of the Divine nature

Jesus had to die so that He could be resurrected so that we can share in that divine nature.

You never know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have. I had to lose everything before I realized that. I lost my son, my sanity, my job, even my husband for a time. How many others are out there walking around like me? I seemed alright on the outside, but on the inside I was dying. My son’s body was the seed that had to be planted in the ground so that new life could spring up in me. For me it is not the end of the story…it is only the beginning.

Maybe the people who are not attending church are doing so because they see this in the people who do?  Which brings me back to the original question I asked the pastor… who prays for the people of this parish?

FATHER JOE:

The pastor prays daily for his parishioners and each Sunday at Mass for the people of the parish. Many are included in the petitions of the General Intercessions. Some parishes have special prayer groups. We should all pray for each other.

BRETT:

No, it is not in the Eucharist where we find Jesus most present. It is in the soup kitchens, the palliative care wards, the prisons and the refugee camps where He walks tall through the actions of those who may never darken a church’s door but live out the word of God through their daily lives. Feeding the hungry, clothing the homeless and visiting the lonely— THAT is where Jesus is most present.

FATHER JOE:

Such a reductionist view of Christianity might satisfy the horizontal litmus test of the Obama administration; however, it would not exhaust the vertical mystery of faith that true Christians maintain.  Our intervention in the world is not our starting point.  It begins with a personal and corporate faith in Jesus Christ.  The love of God always precedes the love of neighbor.  We are to love and worship the Lord with our whole hearts, minds and souls.  Only then can we love neighbor as we should.  Christianity and our relationship with Jesus cannot be reduced to social work.  Our love for God spills over into our love of neighbor.  Look at the late Mother Teresa.  She was dedicated to the poor, the sick and the oppressed.  And yet, they also spent hours before the Blessed Sacrament and participated at daily Mass.  She writes:  “I encourage you to make your Holy Hour through Mary, the cause of our joy, and you may discover that nowhere on earth are you more welcomed, nowhere on earth are you more loved, than by Jesus, living and truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time that you will spend on earth. Each moment that you spend with Jesus will deepen your union with Him and make you soul everlastingly more glorious and beautiful in Heaven, and will help bring about an everlasting peace on earth.”

Heated Conversation Over Annulment Article

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This morning I was alerted on Facebook to a commotion on the Internet regarding an article by a brother priest of the Archdiocese of Washington.  Another priest, Msgr. Charles Pope, who authors the Archdiocesan blog noted:

“I was saddened to see that a priest of my Archdiocese wrote a rather harsh article on Church Marriage teaching. I do think we need to look to clarify the annulment process but I guess I would reform it in very different ways than Fr. Peter Daly says. Anyway, Ed Peters does a pretty good job here of answering my brother priest.”

I said my prayers, offered Mass and then tracked down the article and Dr. Peters’ response.  CATHOLIC WORLD REPORT aligned itself with Dr. Ed Peters as did Father John Zuhlsdorf on his blog.

Doctor Peters versus Father Daly

The first thing that Google found was the site for the canonist Dr. Edward Peters.  He offered a stinging rebuke to Fr. Peter Daly’s NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER article on reforming annulments.  While the issues at stake were vitally important, saying that it was harsh would be an understatement.  Castigating my brother priest as sarcastic and childish, he critiqued Father Daly’s article, saying:

  • He violates the “heart of Church teaching on the permanence of marriage.”
  • He is “repackaging common historical errors, irrelevant platitudes and bad theology.”
  • His dismissals of the juridical are “complaints about Christ’s economy of salvation.”
  • Fr. Daly does not want reform of annulments but their “abandonment.”

Wow, regular readers are aware that I routinely struggle with a pugnacious manner of my own, but goodness, Dr. Peters certainly pulled no punches!

I guess I was going about this backwards.  What did my priest friend say that merited such rebuke?  I tracked down Fr. Daly’s article at the newspaper site.

Oh boy, what can I say?  As another parish priest, I will share my (personal) position, hopefully with an ample supply of charity.   So what did he write to cause all the Internet chatter?  The article is entitled, “Pope Francis Should Consider the Church’s Outdated Annulment Process” (January 13, 2014) by Fr. Peter Daly.

True Sensus Fidelium

He admits that the catalyst for the article was the recent request from the Holy See for input in the upcoming special Synod on the Family.  Along with many others, he is excited by the apparent new openness of the Magisterium to hear from the rest of the Church, the rank-and-file priests in the trenches and the laity in the pews.  (Some critics are arguing that the survey was only addressed to the bishops but this is not strictly true.  The bishops sent the questions to priests and the faithful for collaboration.  Several dioceses placed the questions online for quick electronic responses.  Deadlines were give clergy and laity as to when to send in their answers.)  He stamps this change of direction as a miracle and writes:

“In our top-down hierarchical church, the concept of the sensus fidelium has been pretty much a dead letter since the Second Vatican Council. Usually Rome talks and we listen. But now he wants to hear from us. Thank you.”

Certainly, there is much to be said about listening, but we all still have different roles to play and ultimately the response of sheep to a shepherd is that of obedience.  As for the sense of the faithful, we must be wary of the fact that many if not most today are formed more by a secular, hedonistic and materialistic world than by the Gospel.  Only those believers who maintain the core truths, worship, and conscientiously live out their discipleship are truly agents of sensus fidelium.  You cannot transmit or develop what you really do not have.  I would suggest that fallen-away uncatechized Catholics and the majority of dissenters do not qualify despite the fact that someone spilled water over their heads decades ago to appease aging grandparents.

The Protestant Practice & the Orthodox Model Fall Short

Father Daly takes the survey from Rome and narrows his focus to the question of annulments.  His response is blunt:  “scrap our current annulment process and look east to see what our Orthodox brothers and sisters are doing.”  As a priest in good standing, he rightly asserts that Jesus did not approve of divorce and remarriage.  (I have often been amazed at the mental gymnastics that certain Protestant churches must employ to get around this restrictive teaching, especially in the Gospel of Matthew.  They make wiggle-room where there really is none.  But is Father Daly trying to force wiggle-room?)  He also knows full well that the current annulment process is an effort to respect this teaching while showing compassion to our people.

He brings up the Orthodox churches of the East which allow second Penitential Marriages as a possible solution.  But many of us fault it as a negative symptom of national churches.  Remember that Roman Catholicism was willing to allow the entire English church to slip away over the issue of marital permanence and King Henry VIII.  Would we now backtrack and say we were just kidding about the gravity of this issue?  Neither Sir Thomas More nor Bishop John Fisher can be given back their heads; and neither can we really turn back the clock on licit and valid marriages.  Along with certain Protestant notions about faith, authority and Scripture that are trying to get a foothold in the Eastern churches, especially those transplanted into the West, this issue of second marriages may be a greater hurdle to ecclesial reunion than either the Filioque Clause or Papal Primacy.

The annulment process might need to be reworked, but I do not believe the Orthodox provide a viable alternative.  Although not as shallow as our Anglican friends, the Orthodox might hide a false caricature of marriage behind elaborate ceremony and the pretension of sorrow.  True contrition means reform or change of life.  The so-called Penitential Marriages just give the couple their own way while feigning some degree of anxiety in conscience about it.  Father Daly insists that the matter should rest entirely with one man, the priest on the ground.  But he and I know that priests are not the same and there are some who may wrongly replace the Gospel with their own opinions and sentiment.  The Tribunal seeks an objective reality.  Is the prior bond a true or false marriage?  There are the judges, an advocate and the defender of the bond.  Beyond these five or more people, the judgment rendered will be reviewed again by another Church court.  They study the facts of the case and hopefully are neither susceptible to the manipulation of money nor to a false compassion.

I must admit that I am devilishly amused by Father Daly’s Episcopal priest-friend finding delight that the Catholic Church’s stand on divorce and remarriage will always give cause for the “Episcopal church.”  The shadow of the reformation still falls upon us.  His friend may be right.  Indeed, I would add (perhaps without charity) that until the final judgment, there will be a place for the Episcopalian church so long as sinners cling to a counterfeit priesthood and Mass, the fantasy of priestesses, the blessing of same-sex unions, the promotion of contraception and tolerance for abortion, the marrying of adulterous couples and the reception of renegade Catholic priests who want to bed their paramours.  Goodness me, I really have to work harder on my ecumenism!  But I would rather be a member of the Church that goes to heaven than the “church of anything-goes.”

The Pastoral versus the Legal?

Father Daly writes:

“The problem with the process in the Roman Catholic church is that it takes what ought to be a pastoral matter and turns it into a legal one. It is complicated, often unfair, and frequently unintelligible to the participants. Some tribunals are easy. Some are hard. It can be very capricious.”

(Is the use of the small “c” in Church an editorial liberty taken by his newspaper?)  As a civil lawyer, Father Daly has a point.  The subjective elements in how many cases are handled can be very worrisome.  Although I would usually be cold water to Father Daly’s hot, we agree upon this much.  The annulment process is not easy.  Formal cases require people to revisit all the pain and betrayal that poisoned their unions.  Adequate grounds have to be discerned in the muddle of mutual allegations and tears.  Witnesses are gathered.  Interviews are given.  Essays are written.  Then a thousand dollars and a year later a verdict hopefully emerges from the backlogged Tribunal.  That verdict is then reviewed by a second court that can approve or send it back.  Most applicants I have assisted seem to get declarations of nullity, but not all.  Sometimes I have to scratch my own head about the grounds.  But I am not a canon lawyer and would not want to be.  I pray for those who must spend so much of their lives and ministry ruminating over the dark side of life and marriages gone sour.

Father Daly desperately wants to be welcoming to those attracted to Catholicism.  While I have serious disagreements with him, he obviously cares and grieves about those estranged by marriages gone bad and new bonds that are not recognized.  My heart also bleeds for the few who wanted to save their marriages— angry and weeping daily at what they see as complicity in allowing their spouses to marry again in the Church.  Annulments are very staggering in principle and practice.  We are saying that couples previously regarded as married, even before a priest in Church, are not really married and that there is no sacrament.  Some defect invalidated the meaning of their marital act (sleeping together, i.e. sexual congress), having children and living a common life.  They said in their vows before God and to each other that they would forever be faithful and endure all hardships for each other.  But now we hear that someone lied or was incapable of living out the vocation or was mentally ill or had no intention of being faithful or practiced deceit or really did not understand what he or she was doing (after a six month wait and pre-Cana instruction).  One or both of the spouses want out.  It may be a year or twenty years later, but they feel entitled to start over.  Father Daly and I both help such people to begin again, although I am left troubled in conscience by many cases.  People even joke these days, “Promises are made to be broken.”  However, I was raised to believe that vows were made to be kept— in marriage and in the priesthood— even unto the Cross.

I certainly understand the RCIA dilemma for divorced and remarried candidates but there is no good way around it.  Fr. Daly argues that “All the annulment process does is put a road block in their way to entering the church.”  I would contend instead, that the barrier is their failed marriage and their attempt to bypass divine law in marrying again.  The annulment is the Church’s way of respecting the indissolubility of the sacrament while trying to help a couple out of the mess of their own making.  The process has its faults and is not perfect.  But, we would have them authentically married and delivered from the bondage of grievous sin.  It is not just or charitable to ignore a problem that damages their relationship with God and his Church.  They may not subjectively be aware of how much they need this healing.  We should not side-track or halt this process.

Speaking about non-Catholics having to get annulments before entering the Church, he writes that the process is “painful and pointless.”  I have to admit that this use of the word “pointless” makes me cringe.  It may be that the good Father is employing a degree of hyperbole.  He writes:

“They have to find witnesses, get records, take statements, dig up old contacts, and open old wounds. All of our language is legal, not pastoral. We speak of petitions, tribunals, witnesses, advocates, petitioners, defendants and evidence. It is Kafkaesque. It turns pastors into bureaucrats, to no purpose.”

I certainly appreciate his frustration and empathy for the people he serves.  But I would not say it is pointless or lacking purpose.  How else might we make something that is wrong into something right?  It is a difficult business but life is hard and frequently a real mess.  There was a time when divorce was illegal and annulments were rarely or not granted.  I am sure that Father Daly would not have us backtrack.  At least we are trying.

Father Daly says that he has taken “the pastoral route” for the elderly and terminally ill— in other words, he has invoked internal forum.  I have no comment about this.  It is the business of the confessional.  As long as a couple is not engaging in sexual congress and there is no danger of scandal, the priest may have certain discretion.  But I would be very careful about how far I would stretch this pastoral stratagem.  Dr. Edward Peters seems to read more into it; he wonders what he means and warns that if he married such people then these rites are “gravely illicit” (Canon 1085 § 2), “possibly invalid” (Canon 1085 § 1) and/or “sacrilegious” (Canon 1379).  He states that it would be an “abuse of ecclesiastical power” (Canon 1389).  I suspect that all Fr. Daly is doing is helping sick and elderly people to face their last days in right relationship with God.  I would not make more of it than that.

God Opposes Divorce & Remarriage

While all must follow natural and divine positive law, only Catholics are obliged to follow “man-made” Church laws.  (Of course, some Church laws reflect God’s explicit providence and cannot be abrogated.)  Heterosexual marriages between Protestants are acknowledged as sacraments, no matter if witnessed before a minister or civil magistrate.  Marriages with those not baptized are natural bonds but are also generally regarded as fully binding (with the possible exception of referral to the Pauline and Petrine privileges).  Homosexual unions between anyone, anywhere, are not true marriages.  A Catholic must pledge his or her marriage vows before a priest or deacon.  This law could change but it is unlikely and probably unwise to tamper with it.  Divorce is forbidden by Jesus (Matthew 19:3-9):

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”

Nevertheless, there is the irony that no Church annulment case can precede until after a civil divorce.  While some authorities, even clergy, would wrongly argue against the view that divorce is a sin— such is the case, at least for the party or parties who damage the bond and force the separation.  Spouses have vocational obligations or responsibilities toward one another.  Separation does not immediately dispense culpability for marital duties.  Divorced persons should not date.  Rather they should live chastely with no corner given to possible adultery.  Nevertheless, in practice, most annulments come after couples are civilly married and are sexually intimate.  The mess can get messier.

The husband as head of the home expects a certain level of obedience.  That is why he is also regarded as the final authority when it comes to the discipline of children.  The wife must be respected as the heart of the home.  I tell every man who gets married, that his primary duty in life is to make his wife happy.  I tell the ladies that their devotion to the husband must be that of a best friend, and that she is literally his home.  Together they are responsible for their common life, with all its struggles, joys, sorrows, affection, accomplishments and failures.  They are ordered by nature and their vocation to give intimate friendship to one another where there is the satisfaction of sexual passion and openness to procreation.  It is the duty of a husband and wife to become lovers and parents.  The husband is commanded to treat his wife in a generous and honorable way.  They must work together as partners in insuring the goods of the family, materially, emotionally and spiritually.  Husbands and wives are called to be help-mates to one another.  It is grievously wrong to steal the affection and support owed to a spouse and to give it to another.  Mutual respect and esteem should properly be realized.  Indeed, if there is a separation, one of the duties is not to get married again.  A man who walks out on his wife deprives her of his support and a possible family.  Many such women in the time of Jesus were then forced into adultery to find a means of taking care of themselves.  A woman who abandons her husband will deprive him of the friendship owed him, including the physical intimacy to which men are strongly oriented.  How many stories have we heard about men who turned to mistresses when their wives became to their overtures?  Women who use sex (deprivation) against innocent husbands sin mortally.  This would also apply the other way around.  A woman neglected by her husband might be tempted to fulfill her yearning for affection and friendship elsewhere.  Divorce is not recognized by the Church.  Neither separation nor divorce exonerates or frees the spouse from the various inherent duties of marriage.  While extending marital benefits to the spouse would become impossible or absurd in breakups; still no such recourse can be made to others to procure or to offer these benefits.  Doing so is the commission of adultery, even if tender and loving.

An Administrative Law of the Church for Good Order

The “loophole” for Catholics is really nothing of the kind.  Catholics married outside the Church are not married.  That is why a declaration of nullity is short paperwork.  When convalidations take place we are at pains to emphasize that the new ceremony is not a renewal of promises previously made before a Justice of the Peace.  Instead, even if only five people are in the chapel, this convalidation is the true marriage— not the big expensive affair at the rented mansion or before the judge at the seaside garden of a rich friend.

Fr. Daly laments that these quick annulments or declarations seem unjust.  I can top this.  A couple came to me where the bride-to-be was the “other woman.”  She joked that she stole the Catholic boy from a life of sin so that he could marry in the Church.  This woman deliberately made a play for the civil husband of another woman.  Now she justified it in light of the quick declaration of nullity from the Archdiocese. Her attitude sickened me.  I felt compromised by my association with them.

The priestly critic sees no sense in Church legalities about marriage.  But it is not silly.  The Church has a right to regulate her sacraments.  Given that society and the Church no longer share a common vision of marriage, it seems to me that the Church’s legal appreciation of marriage is more important than ever before.  The pastoral cannot trump objective truth.  The priest might want to give the couple a second chance but it is not for him to decide.

The canonist is not dealing with law like a civil lawyer.  Society today deems law as capricious and open to constant revision.  The Church lawyer must acknowledge laws for the good order of the Church, divine positive law and natural law.  The Church could remove the requirement that Catholics must be married before a priest or deacon.  However, it would only complicate the question about true and false marriages.  But the Church cannot dissolve marriages simply on the say-so of forgiving and caring priests.  The priest has the power to absolve sin.  He does not have the authority to redefine right and wrong in marrying people who are already married, divorce decree or no decree.  If God has made a couple one flesh, and it is fully a sacramental reality, then neither a parish priest nor the Pope has the authority to say otherwise.  The priest is a servant of the Gospel, not its master.  We stand under God’s Word, not above it.  When it comes to marriage we must not by the lie that annulment is a Catholic divorce.  The only reality akin to divorce in regard to the Catholic understanding of marriage is death.  Couples are married,  “until death do they part.”  Annulments are simply a limited means of intervening in cases where a prior bond is determined in justice not to be fully real and binding.  If genuine, no act of charity and compassion could intervene.  It is here that Dr. Peters would interpret Fr. Daly’s argument as one against marital permanence.  The good priest acknowledged Christ’s teaching and the understanding of the Church; however, his solution would utterly compromise the doctrine of marriage.

The Plight that Faces Us

Father Daly writes:

“Nobody is deterred from getting divorced and remarried by our annulment process. But many people are deterred from coming into or back to the church by our annulment process. It is spiritually counterproductive.”

The numbers may be few but I would not say “nobody.”  I have known people who broke off relationships because they loved the Lord and his Church more than a romantic entanglement.  Admittedly I am confused by some of my brother priest’s opinions.  People may not understand the annulment process but all we are doing is asking people to keep their promises.  Everyone on their marriage day thinks with the Catholic Church and they vow to be faithful to each other, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, until death do they part.  It is only later when something goes wrong that people want out.  If we close our eyes and mouths to believers who marry outside the Church then do we become accomplices in their sin?  We need to invite them into seeing the annulment process as a stage of healing.  We must also invoke courage and strength when no annulment is possible and any second or third marriage attempt is a form of adultery.  Filling our churches with couples locked into lives of mortal sin is not the answer and would also be “spiritually counterproductive.”

Closing Thoughts

I have long since lost the argument in the Archdiocese about withholding communion, particularly to the enablers of abortion.  I have personally wept over the sacrilege against the sacrament and the prospect of bringing the full weight of judgment to communicants ill-disposed to receive our Lord.  Father Daly writes:  “To our faithful, the real scandal is not the fact that divorced and remarried people might receive Communion, but that sincere people who really desire the Eucharist are kept from it by a legalistic, complicated, capricious and alienating annulment process.”  I think the world of this priest, and I could never challenge his legal knowledge and writing skills.  He was ordained a month after me back in 1986.  He is a beloved and successful pastor.  Family members attend his church and adore him.  He remains in my daily prayers.  I see many of the problems and issues he sees; but I cannot agree in all his assessments and proposed solutions.  I am a parish priest and would not trust myself to write off a command from the mouth of Christ.  I could not do it.  As for Holy Communion, I urge everyone to go to Mass; however, I also ask that each of us reflect upon our worthiness for the Eucharist.  If we are living in an objectively immoral situation and mortal sin, it would be sacrilege to take the sacrament.

The Mass is also a testimony to a marriage banquet.  Christ is the groom and the Church is his bride.  Jesus will never break his promises to his bride.  We should keep our promises.  Christ who is ever faithful was brought to his Cross by all our broken promises.  Yes, even in the face of abuse, betrayal and abandonment, we should remain faithful.  I suspect that the answer for which we are looking in this debate rests with an imitation of Christ and a deeper awareness and resolve to practice sacrificial love.

Fr. Suarez Does Healing Mass at Holy Family Church

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Fr. Fernando Suarez offered a healing Mass and service at Holy Family last night. We figure about 650 people came out. He is well known in the Filipino community.

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Here I am with Father Suarez on the rectory porch.  I heard confessions from 4:30 to 6:30 PM and made myself available for more after Mass.  Father Suarez offered the healing blessings to individuals in the church and then went over to the overflow crowd in the hall.

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The success of the event was all due to the many volunteers who set up for the event, gave hospitality to the priests and organized the parking and seating.  Chief among these is Monette Roxas-Tharp (pictured below) who took registrations and functioned as the parish coordinator.

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VIDEO – Guide to the Mass

Latin in the Revised Roman Missal

At the Archdiocesan blog, Msgr. Charles Pope shares his “pet peeve” about the absence on the Latin prayers in the new Roman Missal. Here are my thoughts about it:

I suspect the issue was the bulk of the new Roman Missal or “sacramentary.” It is already an imposing book, swelled in size by the alternative Eucharistic Prayers and the many saints added to the calendar by Pope John Paul II. While I also love the doctrinal precision and riches of the “corrected” translation, my criticism is precisely the size and weight of the book. Spines are already breaking in certain editions and many young altar servers are straining to hold it at the celebrant’s chair. A number of pastors have thus added a missal stand next to the chair to remedy this problem. It is my understanding that the American bishops requested breaking the Roman Missal into two volumes; however, this request was denied by the Holy See. Similarly, there is no edition which includes only the Collects and Prayers After Communion for use at the chair as there was for the previous ritual book.

If I have a “pet-peeve” it is the alternating with and without musical settings for prefaces and other prayers. It is enough to have the musical setting without the confusion of the same text inserted without notation. The eye does not know where to look.

The Latin of the old sacramentary was in microscopic print squeezed into the back of the book. It was handy but tough on the eyes. Fortunately, there is available a Latin version of the Roman Missal, third edition. I would urge pastors to add this book to their sacristy collections for use in full or in part. Speaking for myself, I would like to see a multi-volume English-Latin (side-by-side) edition of the complete Roman Missal.

Transformation from Modern to Traditional Altar

FSSP transform a modernistic free-standing altar into a very beautiful High Altar. The church that this took place in is in France and is now operated by the Fraternity of St. Peter. The complete time for this “Altar-ation” was just about 15 minutes!

A number of years ago, I posted this simple video of an ugly modern communion table being transformed into a visible altar of sacrifice. The posting was a whim, a small aside. The discussion that followed floored me. This was much more important to believers than I had thought. This is all for the good.

Here is the Discussion

MARY O: Deo Gratias!

GERRY L: Amazing! That’s how it should be.

ANNA MARIA: To Mary O— A big “Amen” to your comment. I couldn’t say it better. To Father Joe— Thanks for posting this! Where there is a will there is a way. I hope we see more of this Stateside!

JOHN S: Next stop improve the music!

KAY: Amen!!!!

KRISTIE: Beautiful! And I agree; that is how it should be! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it spread State side? Thanks Father Joe! You are awesome!

VICTORIA: Reverent…one aspect of many of the beauty of Catholicism. (I didn’t witness this reverence in the Baptist, Unitarian, Nondenominational, or Methodist churches.) I’m sooo happy I’m Home.

BOB: John S— Sanctus fumus! More Palestrina, that’s what wants here!

LADY GODLESS: Well, that was nice! It looked too much like a lethal injection gurney before.

REGINA: Fr. Joe, this is why women are not priests…I spent an hour reading your blog and it reminds me of something I already know— men have a thick skin. They are tougher than us women. I heard a caller to a secular radio station say that the gates of hell referred to in the bible would not prevail against the Church, which, as the caller pointed out, was a battering ram. I loved this insight— you are a battering ram! Keep battering those gates Father! I pray for you.

ANITA MOORE OPL: One of these days, the change will be permanent. We can look at the cost as a penance for having wrecked the old furnishings in the first place. Is it possible there are some bishops who will not get out of Purgatory until the wreckovations they ordered are undone? If so, that makes the restoration of the Churches even more urgent.

HIDDEN ONE: I know a few altars that could use that kind of treatment… at least one of which a renovation group could sneak into, remodel, and leave, likely without being noticed. *sigh*

MR. FLAPTRAP: This is the installation of the new altar at my parish, St. Raphael’s in Rockville, Md. The old altar was similar in style to the original one in this video (four round concrete legs and a slab.) The base on the new one features the three archangels named in the Bible.

FATHER JOE: Yes, I remember the before and after. There are also shots of the late Father Bill Finch who died after Mass on Holy Thursday 2009. Rest in Peace. Thank you for sharing the video.

BILL C:

I recently joined a parish where altar, tabernacle, and crucifix are in a traditional vertical line of worship as in the video. Sadly, I am aware of only a few churches in the archdiocese of Cincinnati that are configured with the tabernacle placed at the altar. I must drive farther to my new parish, but the trip is well worth it because I now experience a much deeper sense of worship, adoration, and reverence for the Eucharist.

I pray our new archbishop will institute a uniform policy to place the tabernacle at the altar in all parish churches in the archdiocese. This would be a huge achievement for the catechesis of young and old on Christ’s Eucharistic presence.

Pope Pius XII, in his 1956 Address on the Liturgy, addressed with prophetic insight what would happen only a decade later shortly after Vatican II by warning: “To separate tabernacle from altar is to separate two things which by their origin and their nature should remain united.” Indeed, Church tradition for seven centuries — from mid-thirteenth century until after Vatican II — had placed the tabernacle at the altar. Surely the Holy Spirit inspired the holy union of tabernacle and altar over so many centuries.

This is a really informative website. Keep up the good work, Fr. Joe! God bless.

JOHN: The problem today is that the priests have been formed to think that they are pastors first and the Mass means very little.

FATHER JOE: That was not my experience. Most priests I know would argue with you. The Eucharist is the center of our lives.

JOHN:

If you look at the new Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1983 by Pope John Paul II, take a look at Canon 276. This canon directly addresses the question of how Catholic priests are to pursue holiness. It lists:

First, the obligation to ‘faithfully and untiringly….fulfill the duties of pastoral ministry’; Second, the obligation to Sacred Scripture and the celebration of the Eucharist; Third, reading the breviary.

FATHER JOE: Are you being purposely deceptive? The code begins by saying, “In leading their lives, clerics are bound in a special way to pursue holiness since, having been consecrated to God by a new title in the reception of orders, they are dispensers of the mysteries of God in the service of His people.” The initial statement of the canon stresses “the mysteries of God” and the chief among these are the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance. Priests have been empowered by Christ to offer the sacrifice of the Mass and to forgive sins. I suspect that you have a watered down appreciation of the pastoral ministry. A man is not ordained chiefly for his own salvation but for that of others. Jesus washed the feet of his apostles and told his followers to do so for one another. The priest is the servant of God who lays down his life for others. A pastor serves God by sacrificing his life for his flock. Only priests can offer the Mass and forgive sins. This has not changed since Vatican II.

JOHN: Canon 276 sets forth a weird priority of obligations. For years Catholics (including priests) have been taught that because the Eucharist is the centre of the Church the obligation to celebrate Mass was far and away the most important in priestly life. In fact, this principle was often demonstrated by the famous example that a priest will still celebrate Mass even though there is no one in attendance.

FATHER JOE: I suspect you are not appreciating the language of the Code. It is still recommending that priests celebrate daily Mass. Most if not all priests I know do precisely that. Indeed, many of us offer the Mass several times a day.

JOHN: The obligation of all priests to pastoral duties also undermines the life of any priest living the contemplative life.

FATHER JOE: There are different codes for pastors and monks. It is a different life. Many religious priests in monasteries regularly concelebrate. Most diocesan priests are the only priest present at their liturgies. Some groups like the Trappists only ordain enough priests to care for the community. The other monks remain religious brothers. The old code also placed a pastor-priest’s salvation on the line in how he fulfilled his pastoral duties: not neglecting the needs of his people for the Eucharist and Confession and Extreme Unction. The transmission of the true faith, especially to the children is crucial in both codes. Failure to give adequate care to this would constitute mortal sin.

JOHN: Although the canon refers to all priests (not merely diocesan), one wonders how it can be applied to the many priests living in a monastery.

FATHER JOE: Particular rules of life in orders approved by the Holy See and the codes on religious take precedence since it is seen as a higher vocation.

JOHN: In fact, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to see how monks can be said to have any priestly obligation to pastoral ministry. It would also not be exaggeration to say that the Vatican II theology of the priesthood, which makes pastoral obligations intrinsic to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, undermines the life of the monk-priest.

FATHER JOE: Such ministry is in regard to the religious community. Similarly priests were sometimes given charge of a convent. Their flock would be the nuns. Pastoral ministry always exists in some form, even if it is just Mass for the dead. The word “pastoral” is a reference to the role of a priest as a shepherd. He cares for the sheep and does so according to the powers and authority given him. You are making a false case. Accidentals have changed in some cases, but the priesthood is as it has always been. The old code was even more concerned about accidentals to ministry, like tonsure and clerical property and certain rights.

JOHN:

This approach seems little else that an attempted synthesis between the Catholic diocesan priesthood and the Lutheran ministry. Further, it is a change so radical that it can be safely said that the Catholic priesthood has been turned upside-down.

On October 24, 1995, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in a speech given on the thirtieth anniversary of Presbyterorum Ordinis, said that Vatican II attempted to broaden the classical image of the priesthood and to satisfy the demands proposed by the Reformation, by critical exegesis, and by modern life but from the reading of Canon 276 it seems more likely that the Council, in its ecumenical effort, embraced the Protestant ideas of ministry but unfortunately loosened its grasp of the core of the Catholic priesthood. The consequence was that Vatican II produced a document which at its core is little else than a warmed-over version of the Protestant ministry.

FATHER JOE: You mean well, but your hatred of the Church after Vatican II colors your reasoning. Catholic priests are not defined as one would Lutheran ministers. Many Lutherans believe that ordination can expire. The priesthood is forever. Catholic priests offer daily Mass. Many Lutherans do not and are only part-time ministers. Catholic priests offer a propitiatory sacrifice of the Mass (a true re-presentation of Calvary) and offer us the risen Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Protestants have occasional communion services and give out bread and juice. Catholic priests claim to have the power to forgive sins. No Lutheran minister would say that. Look at the catechism, which is far more revelatory about the priesthood than the Code on the rights and responsibilities of the clerical state.

JOHN: These liturgical changes, which were introduced over forty years ago, can now be seen as part of the larger picture. It is no secret that vernacular liturgy, the concept of Eucharist as-meal (implicit in the Mass of Paul VI), and the use of a table in the sanctuary (rather than an altar) were applauded by most Protestant sects. In fact these liturgical changes were the companion of very serious changes to the Catholic priesthood— all under the influence of Protestant theology.

FATHER JOE: Abuses happened, but the liturgical reform and a movement to a vernacular liturgy were being explored even in the 1930′s. We saw the development of the dialogue Mass prior to Vatican II. There is no denial of sacrifice by regarding the altar as also a table. There need be no either/or. As for Protestant sects, we came to appreciate a common love for Jesus, but most of them still reject the Mass and the priesthood. The sacraments are still wholly Catholic and neither the priesthood nor the Mass has lost that spiritual efficacy given them by Christ.

JOHN: And I continue to find it so amusing how everyone thinks of Pope JPII as being so conservative where it was he who introduced a new Code of Canon Law, new Catholic Catechism, new translations of the Bible (USCCB and NAB but approved on the Vatican website and explained as such), proudly proclaimed ecumenism as the cornerstone of his pontificate and participated in false worship that in infallible councils and in encyclical after encyclical proclaimed any Catholic let alone a Pope who would do such was excommunicated.

FATHER JOE: The Old Catholics broke away from the true Church prior to Vatican II. Many Anglicans practice ancient rituals. However, like so many Latin Traditionalists, their fight over ecclesiology and the authority of the Pope makes them the REAL PROTESTANTS. You can offer the Tridentine Mass and still be a heretic, schismatic, excommunicant, and a PROTESTANT. Unlike certain churches of the East locked into a stagnant tradition; the Catholic Church has a Magisterium that is protected by the Holy Spirit. We have a teaching authority centered upon the Pope which along with the world’s bishops (in and out of council) guides the Church. A few renegade bishops and priests have no such divine protection.

JOHN: This mess will take generations to clean up and millions of souls will be lost because of those who were entrusted to save souls.

FATHER JOE: And some of the lost souls will follow the guidance of illicit bishops who deny the Jewish holocaust and who rebuke the authority of Christ’s Vicar on Earth.

ANNE W. PALMER: I cried and cried when I saw the video. Thanks be to God! I grew up with the traditional years ago. There is such a difference in realization of the sacredness of our precious Lord in the Eucharist. Vatican II was so misinterpreted, adding things that were never there in the first place. I will never understand how that happened. The video makes it so plain. Thank you for posting it. I will share it with as many as possible. By the way, the music was awesome too. I would like to know from where it came? Music also denotes the sacred and that was sacred.

JOHN: Why is my comment still awaiting moderation? [I had to find time to respond in the original discussion.] Is it that difficult or do you not want to acknowledge the new form of the priesthood, which after Vatican II saw thousands leave and starting with the late 1950′s, the “wandering eye” priest (not to be accepted as good) give way to the pedophile, gay, liberal priest who has led millions of souls to hell?

FATHER JOE: There is no new form of priesthood. That is the lie promulgated by those who misrepresent the teachings of the present-day Catholic Church under Peter’s successor. Those who give greater weight to accidentals over substance or essentials fall into grievous error, particularly in regard to ecclesiology and juridical authority. You might not like the current reformed rituals, but the sacraments are intact and the Church endures. As for pedophile priests, many of the lawsuits regard clergy who were formed by the old Latin regime. What is the old saying about people living in glass houses throwing stones?

JOHN: Our Sermon today at the SSPV chapel in Oyster Bay was just that, how the priesthood right before and after Vatican II with its changes in its form as well as intent as I have stated above, is more concerned about being “liked” and knowing the bible than about saving souls and leading those astray to find Christ.

FATHER JOE: You belong to a splinter group of a splinter group, a schism of a schism? You are being deceived. I will pray that you will return to the one holy “Catholic” and apostolic CHURCH.

BILL C:

I’m surprised more people have not responded to this topic and I would really like to know what you think. I’m 62 years old. Although I’m happy to have recently joined a parish with the tabernacle at the main altar, it makes me downright angry that so many parishes in my archdiocese displace the tabernacle. Let me give you a few examples. The parish where I grew up removed the tabernacle from the altar sometime after Vatican II and placed it in a side wing near the choir. They put the baptismal font at the altar where the tabernacle once stood.

Another parish I attended for several years was an older church with a beautiful altar having a built-in tabernacle. When it was remodeled, they put the tabernacle at a side altar outside the sanctuary, and “boarded up” the hole at the main altar with an ornamental cross display.

The last parish I attended for several years before joining my present one actually had the tabernacle as a small wall-closet outside the sanctuary. I finally had my fill of this nonsense and was delighted to find a traditional parish with the tabernacle at the main altar.

Call me “old fashioned” if you like, but to my way of thinking, Christ’s Eucharistic presence is either real or make-believe. If make-believe, then it really doesn’t matter where we put the tabernacle or whether anyone genuflects before it. But if Christ’s Eucharistic presence is real, then where on earth would you even think about placing the tabernacle — other than at the main altar.

As I pointed out in my earlier comment, Catholic tradition placed the tabernacle at the altar for 7 centuries — from mid-13th century until shortly after Vatican II. And contrary to what some Catholics mistakenly believe, Vatican II did NOT mandate or encourage the removal of the tabernacle from the altar. This nonsense resulted from liturgists who used the reform momentum of Vatican II as an excuse to radically redesign churches with the consent of some bishops who frankly were “asleep at the wheel.”

And where has this nonsense led. My observation is that most people do not genuflect when the tabernacle is absent from the altar, and if they do it’s often not even in the direction of the tabernacle. There is also a lot more talking in the pews before and after Mass. In short, reverence for the Eucharist is lacking to some extent and Mass seems more a “communal meal” and less an act of divine worship. At least, that’s my personal experience.

And, what about catechesis on Christ’s Eucharistic presence? What does it say to young and old alike when the baptismal font replaces the tabernacle at the altar, or when the tabernacle is placed at a side altar like a saint’s statue, or when the tabernacle is a wall closet outside the sanctuary?

Eucharistic adoration doesn’t make a lot of sense to me in churches where the tabernacle is displaced. After all, what is the sense of placing the Eucharist in a monstrance on the main altar when the tabernacle is not afforded the same position of honor? Isn’t the same Eucharist inside the tabernacle or am I missing something?

To reiterate the words of Pope Pius XII in my earlier post above: “To separate tabernacle from altar is to separate two things which by their origin and their nature should remain united.” Also, I think it’s hard to argue with 7 centuries of Church tradition that placed the tabernacle at the altar. Certainly, the Holy Spirit inspired the holy union of tabernacle and altar over so many centuries.
Okay, Father Joe, what do you think about all this? It troubles me spiritually to see such disconnect between my belief about the Eucharist and the placement of the tabernacle in so many churches?

FATHER JOE: In regard to our parish churches, tabernacles are best placed in the center, along with the altar. We pretty much agree. My last parish had a side tabernacle (built in 1971). I moved it to the center where it belonged.

MARY O: “I moved it to the center where it belonged.” God bless you for that, Father Joe.

Responding to the Call to Worship

When I look at the depth of Catholic faith, I wonder why anyone would ever look anywhere else. Everything we need for spiritual meaning and salvation is here. Nevertheless, some inquirers dismiss the Church and others walk away. Speaking for myself, I would not want to forfeit the Eucharistic sacrifice or presence for anything. Why is it then that so many abandon or refuse to come home to the Catholic Church? I think the answer has to do with people wanting to feel wanted and the consolation that comes with close fellowship and the acceptance of others. Catholicism is a ritualistic church. Like the Jews before us, we have our traditions, priesthood, cultic oblation, and authority. We have formulas for everything. We dip our fingers into the water fount, we genuflect, we sit quietly, we cross ourselves, we pound our chests, we touch our foreheads, lips and hearts, we say, “Amen,” “And with your Spirit,” and offer a hand with the words, “Peace be with you.” There is no unnecessary talking in church. We do our duty, try not to snore during the homily, are careful not to drop the wafer and then head out the door. The first one to get to his or her car and start the engine wins. At least, this is what we imply by our mad race to the door.

How Catholic are You?

We can test to see how badly infected our people are with doubt and faithlessness. Here are some sample questions:

1. Do you believe that deliberately missing Sunday Mass is a mortal sin, as detailed in the precepts of the Church?

2. Do you believe that premarital sex and/or cohabitation is a mortal sin?

3. Do you believe that a Catholic can get married validly outside the Church and how can this be if it is a sacrament?

4. Are you for or against the legal choice for abortion even though the Church calls it the murder of ensouled human beings?

5. Do you believe that the marital act must always be that type of act that is open to mutual self-giving and the generation of new human life or do you favor the use of artificial contraception?

6. The Church teaches that same-sex attraction is a disorder and that its pursuit is a violation of the natural law and is seriously sinful. Do you believe this?

7. Is the Eucharist a symbolic presence using bread and wine, a nostalgic remembrance or the actual Risen Christ (divinity and humanity, body and blood)?

8. Do you ever go to Confession? Do you believe that the priest has the power to forgive sins? Do we really need the priest for this at all?

9. Is the Mass a real sacrifice just as the death and oblation of Jesus on the Cross?

10. Does it really matter what one believes as long as he or she is a good person? Is one Church pretty much as good as another? Is it intolerant to insist that the Catholic Church is the one true Church established directly by Christ?

11. Do you believe that the Pope as Vicar of Christ has universal jurisdiction and is given the gift of infallibility in teaching about faith and morals?

12. Do you pray daily and if so how do you pray? Do you really think someone is listening? Do you remember the various types of prayer?

Bishop Kenneth Untener on Women Priests

The bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, died in 2004. It is not my intention to speak ill of the dead, but I still feel compelled to give a strong critique of his argument in favor of women priests. Giving the appearance of orthodoxy, he maintained the usage of “in persona Christi,” while evacuating it of authentic meaning. His claim of a shift in its understanding “since the 1940′s” is not substantiated since it was already well developed in the scholastic tradition. Our deepening appreciation of it has been a legitimate instance of the operation of the universal ordinary Magisterium under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As such it takes upon itself a level of certitude, dare I say infallibility, especially in regards to its five citations in the Vatican II documents. Conciliar teachings do not have to be statistically verified. The bishop, trying to find any loophole for women priests ignored this point.

For those unfamiliar, let me summarize his views. He caricatured, and I believe falsely, the teaching as mere “impersonation,” no different from an actor pretending to be someone else in a contemporary drama. Opposed to St. Jerome’s supposedly “false translation” of the Greek (and here I will transliterate) “en prosopo Christou” (2 Corinthians 2:10) as “in persona Christi,” the bishop claimed it really meant “in the presence of Christ” or “before (the face of) Christ.” If the minister only impersonates Christ, and is not actually present in the priest, then his view would open the door to women priests.

Although these renditions of the word “prosopon” have some validity, one cannot so carelessly dismiss the Vulgate Latin Bible. It remains the official ecclesial translation. Further, the terminology “prosopon” was being stretched or advanced in meaning from its routine usage in Greek drama.

In contrast, various critics will avow that the “persona” manifested is the divine Second Person of the Blessed Trinity but disavow his male-differentiated humanity. However, Christ’s identity can never be split. Thus, while Bishop Untener would actually evacuate any ontological reality of Christ’s presence at the altar, these other critics would divide and subtract from it.

Ecumenically, Anglo-Catholics and Orthodox churches concur with us, even if they might use different terminology. For Eastern Christians, the priest is considered “an icon of Christ.” It must be remembered that icons are considered more than simple images. They are venerated as somehow holding God’s presence in them. The priesthood takes this iconic identification still further. To say that a priest acts as Christ’s icon means that we can experience the undivided person of Christ in him. To make this identification even more complete, the constitutive element of a priest’s maleness may be supplemented by such accidentals as vestments and a beard.

Bishop Untener may be correct in that the Mass is a drama; but, the priest is more than an actor. Every Mass is Christ’s as the principal celebrant. Unless he is present in the person of the priest, this assertion becomes nonsense. The late bishop minimized the meaning of the “prosopon” or mask and others ignore the Greek source for this idea entirely. An actor in ancient Greek theater would hold up a “prosopon” or face to disguise his countenance. More than simply “impersonating” the character as in modern drama, the face he held allowed him to take unto himself a new, even if pseudo-real, identity. These transformations became so thorough, that many of the ancients considered acting to be a vocation.

In the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries, AD, over the identity of Jesus, “prosopon” was understood as an external concrete apparition, the appearance of the “physis.” The “physis” was a set of characteristics or properties, in other words, that which made up the nature of a thing. However, even in this context, the word “prosopon” was strengthened by the term “hypostasis.” [This was because some feared what critics have done regarding the priesthood, dividing or subtracting from Christ.] This last word was closely connected with the term “persona” in the West. The word “person” signified the firm ground from out of which an existing thing took its stand and developed. [It is the person of Christ who stands and renders sacrifice in front of our altars. The priest does not pretend to be Christ. At the Sacrifice of the Mass, he is the undivided Christ.]

The bishop wrote, “In the early centuries we do not see this phrase used to describe the role of the ordained priest.” Why is this? The answer is simple. The Church comes to a further understanding of herself and of her doctrinal treasury through conflict. Christ’s identification with the minister in the liturgy was not at issue. For that matter, even when surrounded by pagan priestesses and heretical ones, the consensus of the Church was so sure that no defense of the male priesthood was thought necessary.

Through all the rhetoric, the bishop was essentially implying that the sexuality and/or body of the human being should not be a determining factor of worthiness for holy orders.  Historically, there is a precedent that says otherwise. Indeed, as I have taught before, the Gnostics who copied many Christian rituals possessed a female priesthood. They also denied that Christ was really a human being. If he were not really a man, we are not redeemed. Do we really want to run this course? I think not. One minor bishop does not constitute or veto the whole Magisterium in union with the Pope.

Abusing St. Thomas’ appreciation of instrumental causality, the bishop wrote that “Christ makes use of the instrument of a priest in the sacraments in the same way that a physician makes use of a scalpel — as an instrument, although in this case, an animate instrument.” What he bypasses is that a man is not a scalpel and a priest is not any man. The nature of the instrument must be respected. Christ has so configured a man that through ordination he is capable of making the Lord present through his very person. This is the legitimate instrumentality of the priest at Mass.

The bishop’s article about the priesthood and women is reprinted in his book, THE PRACTICAL PROPHET.  The post was a letter to a proponent of women’s ordination.   

AMAZON:  The Practical Prophet