Category Archives: Sacraments

A Commandment You Can Keep or, it would seem, God vs. Some Bishops

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The Babylonians ransack Jerusalem

We are given commandments by God and are expected to keep them. We hear Jesus Himself say things like:

“Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

And the Apostle John writing:

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. (1 John 2:3)

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. (Revelation 14:2)

We can feel the weightiness of the word “commandments.” For many it seems like an unusually heavy word, a word out of place in today’s world, altogether too severe, to draconian — certainly not American. I sometimes sense that many Christians have a “you can’t be serious” attitude towards the objective seriousness and absoluteness of commandments. Did not Jesus, after all, save us from all that? He took up His cross so we don’t have to, right? Of course He didn’t. Reference the quotes above.

Often these days we hear of a so-called “pastoral approach,” being pushed hard by a number of bishops, that seems to offer comfort and compassion to sinners without also calling for repentance. The argument for this seems to hinge on the idea that the call to holiness (including the call to a marriage that does not end in divorce, or the call that one should not get remarried without a proper annulment, or the call to chastity or even celibacy) is an ideal rather than an expectation with actual consequences.

This seems to be the idea some bishops see the biblical definition of marriage, and even the Gospel itself — as an ideal that inspires. Writing on Amoris Laetitia, the German bishops published a statement on pastoral care of marriage and the family. The bishops wrote:

People see themselves faced by the shattered remains of their life plans that were based on a partnership. They suffer from having failed and having been unable to do justice to their ideal of life-long love and partnership.

Notice that “life-long love and partnership” is presented as an ideal. I suppose holiness is an ideal too. But we are called to pursue holiness without compromise. Is the Gospel itself an ideal too? If by ideal we mean something not truly attainable, or not something we should expect people to attain, then that would seem to contradict both Holy Scripture and Catholic Tradition. But, of course, the German bishops are not writing without precedent. Here is a key sentence from Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, as quoted by the German bishops in their letter:

“The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements.” (AL No. 308)

Given the continuing issues with the German bishops desiring to water down both the Gospel and Tradition, it would seem they see “ideal” as being a mostly unattainable goal primarily reserved for those who have the faith and goodwill of saints, but not anything more than an an example and a slim hope for most Christians.

Naturally, we often hold up ideals as inspirations for motivation, but not as something we can have hope to attain. However, many see ideals as only that. Is this how God sees ideals? Or, perhaps a better question, does God see His commandments as ideals at all, or as requirements?

Consider this passage from Deuteronomy 30: 11-20

11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Did the Israelites keep these commandments? No. Again and again no. Did God know they would break them? Yes. Of course He did. Did they break the commandments because of sin, weakness, outside pressures, temptations, foolishness, and folly upon folly? Yes. Did they always have some “reasonable” justification in their own eyes for doing so? Probably. They must have.

And yet, God says: “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you.” In light of this cannot the German bishops, and all bishops for that matter, hold Catholics to the actual standards God has given us, offering council, forgiveness, and mercy as is appropriate, but never ceasing to call us all to Christ without compromise? But the way of the German bishops, and too many others as well, seems to imply preaching the Gospel itself is, in fact, too difficult any more.

What was God’s “pastoral” care for His people? God says: “But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.”

Was God too harsh, too draconian on the Israelites? Was the Babylonian captivity God showing a lack of charity? Was the Father sending His Son to die on a cross to much? Some bishops of the Church, it would seem, must think so.

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The Message of Fatima and the Latin Mass

This lecture is worth the entire two and half hours. And it is a packed two and a half hours. Every bishop should watch it. Every priest too. It is profound and filled with riches to ponder and meditate upon. It is also filled with many challenges. Share it with others. Discuss it.

I am not a conspiracy nut, nor am I a staunch traditionalist, nor am I prone to sectarianism or division, etc, etc, but…

Given the connection between the message of Fatima and the Mass, and given a number of connections and observations Mr. Rodríguez makes, it makes sense that the third secret of Fatima has not been fully revealed. It seems rather clear that the message is very likely a direct challenge to the spirit of Vatican II and the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass. And given that the third secret was to be revealed in 1960 and wasn’t, and also by that time the pope and other key individuals in the Church were intent on changing the Mass and bringing about a glorious revolution, no one in leadership (including popes St. John XXIII, B. Paul VI, John Paul I, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis) has wanted to open that can of worms — whether to cancel the council, or redirect its purpose, or not promulgate a new rite of the Mass, or call all of it into question after the fact. Perhaps they would all feel (or have felt) like they would need to officially abandon the Novus Ordo Mass altogether and they just can’t handle admitting that Vatican II was not the work of the Holy Spirit but of man alone. If this is true, then certainly what we have seen in the Church over the past fifty years are the profound and terrible results of God’s judgement — the list of troubles is staggering. Of course, I cannot say all this is true for I know almost nothing about it, but I wonder, I really wonder. Certainly it is deeply sobering to consider. (And the only “arguments” against this that I’ve come across consists of eye rolling. Thin arguments indeed.)

I worry that a great many cardinals, bishops, priests, and perhaps some popes, from the last half century or more, will end up in Hell because of the destruction they have brought about.

What?!

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Am I way off? Is Mr. Rodríguez wrong? What am I missing?

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Considering a Catholic Counter-Revolution

There is a lot of talk about the post-Vatican II Church. Some praise the openness and engagement with the world, saying the Church is no longer stuffy, no longer turned in on itself, no longer disengaged. Others decry the staggering decline in numbers of priests, religious, and faithful as signs that the council, and especially the post-council era, was a terrible turn. In that latter camp one will find many different opinions. Some say the council was entirely the work of the Devil, and that we actually have no pope, and have not had one for some time. Others accept the existence of the pope, but stand in clear opposition to much of what he does and says, and they decry the modernist church, pointing to the council as the key event in the Church’s profound decline. Others are not so strident, they stand with the pope, but they struggle with the council and its modernist tendencies, and they call for a return to authentic reverence at Mass, and think returning to the great traditions of the Church is a good idea, including the traditional Latin Mass of the pre-conciliar  Church, but do not think the Church must “go back” to the past in a complete sense.

I find myself somewhat in that last camp. Pope Francis is my pope. I have written about my struggles with some of what he has said and done, but I still stand with him. And I pray for him every day. However, I think it would be wonderful if the great traditions of the Church experienced a world-wide renaissance. In a sense, I see the need for a kind of Catholic counter-revolution against the modernist forces that have harmed and are still harming the Church and the world today. What that could or should look like I do not know. But I find these two lectures below to offer some perspective and possible ideas. Needless to say, these lectures come from a very “conservative” place, and some might find them leaning too far in that direction and the examples used to extreme. I will leave that up to you to decide.

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Seven Reasons to Love the Traditional Latin Mass

I like this video. It speaks to the same reasons I love the TLM. However, the TLM I go to once a month is a lot more humble than the ones you see here, and also most women do not wear a head covering at the Mass I go to (I’m sorting out my thoughts on that anyway). Still, the reasons apply.

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The Early Church and the Real Presence

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When I was a Protestant I didn’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (I didn’t even know that was an option), and I also believed the Church very quickly became corrupted after the apostles died. That’s why I “knew” our Baptist church was Christian and Catholics were probably going to Hell — nearly two thousand years of corruption until we Baptists came along finally with the true faith of the apostles. In other words, the Eucharist (we called it communion because Eucharist was too “Catholic”) was only a symbol and, of course, any authentic Christian church had to look like the church of the first generation of Christians (whatever we imagined that to be) if it looked like anything at all. I now know this is a lot of foolish bunk, but still popular in many Protestant circles — although those circles seem to be getting smaller and smaller.

One important piece of evidence for a Church of continuity through the ages is the simple fact that a mere few years beyond the first apostles others made statements about the Eucharist that confirm the Catholic teaching, and those others, lo and behold, where connected directly with the apostles. In other words, the Catholic understand of the Eucharist came directly from the apostles, who got it directly from our Lord.

First some quotes. Consider also the names of the authors and the dates:

On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: “In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations.” (Didache, c. 90)

For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus. (St. Justin Martyr, c. 100)

They [Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead. (St. Ignatius of Antioch, c. 110)

[Christ] has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own Blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own Body, from which he gives increase to our bodies. (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 140)

The Word is everything to a child: both Father and Mother, both Instructor and Nurse. “Eat My Flesh,” He says, “and drink My Blood.” The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients. He delivers over His Flesh, and pours out His Blood; and nothing is lacking for the growth of His children. O incredible mystery! (St. Clement of Alexandria, c. 150)

Now consider this handy flowchart* I made:

Early Church Fathers.001

Notice the relationships, see the connections.

Now consider Christ’s words: “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18) Even Hell will not prevail.

It seems to me that the Church has always been a Church of sinners, of struggles, of setbacks, of divisions, but also of healing, reconciliation, and of saints. It has also been a Church of the Eucharist. To think the Church got off course as soon as the apostles died is truly silly. To think the Catholic concept of the Real Presence in the Eucharist is a made-up doctrine that came centuries later is also silly.

“To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” (Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman)


*FYI: if I redo this chart I would make the lines between Paul, Peter, and John dotted, or something other than solid lines.

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How to Receive the Eucharist

The Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon recently made a video on proper and improper ways to receive the Eucharist. I think it’s pretty good:

Archbishop Alexander K. Sample posted the video on Twitter with these words:

“Here is a short video prepared by our Office of Divine Worship demonstrating how to receive Holy Communion reverently under the Church’s current norms and approved options. Let us bring respect back to the Holy Eucharist.”

However, not everyone liked it. The video is specific to the Mass attended by most Catholics in the Archdiocese of Portland, the Novus Ordo Mass. The two ways presented in the video are receiving the host on the tongue while standing and in the hand while standing. What many objected to was the absence of presenting how to receive on the tongue while kneeling.

Nearly every twitter commenter challenged the video, saying the video should have at least included how to receive kneeling and on the tongue, and some called for receiving and standing to be banned altogether. Nearly zero positive comments.

Keep in mind this is the Archbishop who recently celebrated Mass in the usus antiquior form at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., broadcast live on television. He is committed to the growth and resurgence of the Traditional Latin Mass. He is actively making incremental changes in his Archdiocese to bring about more reverence for the Eucharist, including the reinstitution of kneeling after the Lamb of God in the Novus Ordo Mass. Those who despise the NO will criticize this move, but it is a step in the direction of greater and more appropriate reverence within the dominant NO landscape. This is a good thing (especially in the region of the U.S. where the “nones” dominate more than in any other area).

Following the criticism the Archbishop’s tweet and the posted video received, he then responded to the critics of the video by tweeting this:

“Concerning my last post – many people commenting on why not show the most reverent way of receiving on the tongue while kneeling. The fact is the Church gives the people several options. We have to deal with the reality in front of us and do the best we can. Step by step, people”

To this tweet he got more responses, some actually in favor of going slow, and some seeing no need for kneeling or receiving on the tongue at all (even implying concern about this was silly), but still most were strongly against the message of the video. I feel a few of the comments were actually disrespectful of the Archbishop (a symptom of our broader culture’s steady decline, and of our common social media culture). Others were merely ignorant, which one should expect. Here are some of those comments:

“In allowing the reception of the blessed sacrament in a clearly irreverent manner are we really willing to offend our blessed lord rather than offend those who recieve him????”

“Excellency, the “Church allows” is a low bar. Pastoral reasons can trump that minimal standard at any point, and the fruits of the in-the-hand experiment speak for themselves.”

“As the Archbishop, can’t you just order the priests in your diocese to distribute communion kneeling on the tongue & to do the Mass ad orientium? It’s your diocese, these methods are licit and best practices. Tbh, we’re dying for a Bishop to be a father, demand order, and do this”

“Step by step? How about a directive from a Bishop? Dealing with reality means dealing with it, not punting.”

“Enough already! KNEEL TO RECEIVE THE LORD! AND ON THE TONGUE. Receiving in the hand erodes belief in the real presence, if Catholics nowadays even know what this is.”

“Reality & Options. Simple. Kneel down, open your mouth. Otherwise, stay in the pew. Anything else is Rationalizations & Excuses to be Irreverent.”

Naturally, this topic brings out passionate responses from many Catholics. I have some of the same feelings, I too want more reverence, more tradition, and receiving communion on the tongue while kneeling, but I strongly agree with the Archbishop. Although I would prefer all would receive kneeling and on the tongue (and the TLM everywhere), I believe the Church needs to take this step by step, and do as his excellency says: “deal with the reality in front of us and do the best we can.” The reasons are fairly basic:

First, Catholics have been indoctrinated over the past 50 years with some rather significant and, at times, very troubling assumptions. They tend to believe that the old traditions are a sign of rigidity. Many Catholics even think receiving the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling is, at best, a weird act of misplaced piety, and most likely an act of pompous showiness, and at worst actually sinful. These are, of course, much like basic Protestant beliefs that come from the idea that true, authentic faith and worship must have nothing else attached to it other than one’s own inner feelings. Therefore, conforming to outward standards of reverence can’t be anything other than pretension, and therefore must be resisted and even eradicated. But this is a false religion born out of a bad anthropology. But if we are to change these ideas, and encourage Catholics to kneel and receive on the tongue, then we first have to address the ideas head-on and not force outward behavior that might, strangely and ironically enough, cause scandal. We have inherited a kind of Gordian Knot that will take faith, prayer, wisdom and, of course, the work of the Holy Spirit to undo.

Second, culture runs very deep, and is made manifest in habitual actions. Those actions are typically copied from others. Human beings become who they are largely by copying what everyone around them is doing (for good or bad). This is how societies are generally formed. The fact that many Catholics treat the Holy Eucharist with somewhat irreverent actions and nonchalant ease comes from having those behaviors and attitudes worked into them by their surrounding culture. That culture includes specifically Catholic culture (what Catholics see other Catholics doing at Mass, for example), but also includes the pervasive consumerist, self-fulfillment, neoliberal culture of our profoundly influential modern age. To put it bluntly, a great many Catholics are simply blind to how their own actions declare a non-Catholic worldview (even at Mass), and they are probably incapable of not being blind except for the work of the Holy Spirit because the culture is so insidiously powerful and deeply ingrained within their souls (I should say within “our” souls, because you and I are affected too). Therefore, merely pushing hard for external changes assuming it will then automatically change people’s hearts and minds is foolish. If fact, it might push people away. This is why prayer is so important. It is also why loving and befriending others while also being the change you want to see may be the best way to encourage change in others.

Third, receiving the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling is based on some fundamental theological dogmas and assumptions. The traditions of the Church speak to centuries of working out the Church’s dogmas and assumptions into appropriate actions, such as the actions of the Mass. If one is ignorant of those fundamental dogmas, then being asked to do something that feels weird and awkward will be resisted. Rather, teach the right fundamentals so well and so frequently that the Church will clamor for communion kneeling and on the tongue, as well as a number of other traditions now seemingly lost to history. The video above may help by reorienting people’s attention to the idea of reverence for the Real Presence, and to the fact that our actions actually mean something and have real consequences. That then can become a foundation upon which to build. Could the video be better, maybe. Is it a start, absolutely. Is it an appropriate way to reach the Novus Ordo crowd? Yes.

I believe one of the best ways to get the Church be become more reverent would be for bishops to have their priests preach repeatedly each Sunday on the Real Presence and related topics. Reinstitute that fundamental belief, and much good will follow. If done well, and assuming the priests have been taught well and actually believe the truth, then I am convinced that after a year (perhaps sooner) the laity will be demanding a lot of the old traditions be reinstated; perhaps accompanied with weeping for what has been lost but what can still be recovered — weeping tears of sorrow and joy.

For now, though, encourage reverence wherever and however you can. Pray that the Holy Spirit will blow the “smoke of Satan” out of the Church, and that true worship and authentic faith will begin to flourish like never before. And be sensitive to where your fellow Catholics are in their everyday lives and understanding, and pray that we have strong, courageous, and faithful bishops.

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Daily Mass

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Early morning sunrise blesses the front of St. Mary, Our Lady of the Presentation, Catholic Church in Eugene, Oregon

Rarely do I go to daily the 6:55 AM Mass at our parish. This is a simple, stripped-down Mass compared to Sunday Mass. No music, no pomp, a short homily. It lasts about 30-35 minutes, just long enough to do what it needs to do and short enough to allow folks to get to work — although most who go look as if they are already retired. I don’t often go because of various “logistics” of scheduling and available transportation. If I could, I probably would go every day. I love starting my day with the Eucharist.

I also love the more elaborate Mass on Sundays. There we have a full choir and the nave is usually filled with parishioners. Generally, the Mass really does deserve all the best pomp we can muster. I also love the Traditional Latin Mass I go to on the first Saturday of every month. Fewer people at that one, but the beauty is very special, and I love the reverence and depth. But I also love the daily Mass, because I love our Lord. I do not require anything elaborate. The Eucharist is sufficient.

When I was a Protestant I only knew of church on Sunday morning. I knew there were various other activities, like bible studies, choir practices, and kids’ nights during the week. On very rare occasions we went to the Sunday evening “let your hair down just a bit” service (conservative Baptist style, of course), but going to church was almost always a Sunday morning thing. Becoming Catholic opened me up to a bigger world in many ways (which I’ve documented in this blog quite a bit), not least that Mass is celebrated throughout the week, often more than once per day, and this is happening around the world. In other words, at any given time Mass is be celebrated. Add to this the liturgy of the hours and once sees the Catholic Church is in constant and continual worship of God. I find this truly amazing.

Eventually, when my schedule and means allow, I will likely go to Mass daily.

 

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