Saturday, August 17, 2019

The USCCB and the Real Presence


The USCCB has been lamenting the fact that only 1/3 of Catholics in the United States believe in the Real Presence, according to a recent PEW survey. Lifesite News published a great article about how the faithful, when the bishops asked how to remedy this, overwhelmingly suggested a return to traditional practices. 

It is really frustrating to see the shoulder shrugging of the bishops on this question. I don't know if their "let's ask the faithful" was an attempted display of humility—like when Pope Francis asked for the prayers of the people at his papal election—but it comes across as desperate and grasping for straws: like the financial manager of a failing investment firm emailing his clients and saying, "I don't know guys, I'm stumped...anyone here got any investment ideas?" 

As long as I have been following affairs in the American Church (around 2002), the failure of U.S. bishops to sufficiently promote traditional piety has always been infuriating to me. Sure, some of the better ones may give lip-service to traditional liturgical practices and devotions, but when it actually comes to using their authority to do something, very few will. Even my own bishop—who celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass and has been a relatively good pastor compared to others in this country—has done very little in way of actually changing anything at the parish level.

An individual bishop has broad authority over the celebration of the sacred mysteries within his diocese. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says:

"The diocesan Bishop, who is to be regarded as the high priest of his flock, and from whom the life in Christ of the faithful under his care in a certain sense derives and upon whom it depends, must promote, regulate, and be vigilant over the liturgical life in his diocese. It is to him that in this Instruction is entrusted the regulating of the discipline of concelebration (cf. nos. 202, 374) and the establishing of norms regarding the function of serving the priest at the altar (cf. no. 107), the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds (cf. no. 283), and the construction and ordering of churches (cf. no. 291). With him lies responsibility above all for fostering the spirit of the sacred Liturgy in the priests, deacons, and faithful" (GIRM 387).

Let us unpack this a bit.

The bishop establishes norms for who may assist the priest at the altar; if we look at GIRM 107, cited above, the bishop has total discretion over who may serve as acolyte, lector, cantor, sacristan, and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and in general regulate the conduct of all who serve at the altar or handle Holy Communion. If he wished, a bishop could do the following:

  • Direct all who serve the altar to reverence the Eucharist with a genuflection (instead of a bow) unless they are physically incapable of doing so.
  • Phase out female altar servers and return to male-only servers, as Fr. Joseph Illo did in San Francisco.
  • Mandate that all servers wear the cassock.
  • Direct cantors and scholas within his diocese to use only traditional chants during communion, as well as avoid any hymns which refer to the Eucharist as "bread and wine" or speak of the altar as a "table."
  • Do away with EMHC, or at least reduce their ranks or offer stricter guidelines of when they can be utilized.
GIRM 283 says "The diocesan Bishop may establish norms for Communion under both kinds for his own diocese." In theory, a bishop could go back to a more traditional practice of reception whereby communion under both kinds is reserved for special occasions or communities. Apart from any supernatural considerations, merely making the reception of communion under both species rarer, as well as restricting who may handle the sacred species, would psychologically elevate the importance of Holy Communion in the minds of the faithful—and that is before we even begin to consider the graces that would come through such changes.

But I think the individual bishop's greatest mechanism for using his authority to promote Eucharistic piety is found in GIRM 291, which gives the bishop authority over "the construction and ordering of Churches." GIRM 291 says:
"For the proper construction, restoration, and remodeling of sacred buildings, all who are involved in the work are to consult the diocesan commission on the sacred Liturgy and sacred Art. The diocesan Bishop, moreover, should use the counsel and help of this commission whenever it comes to laying down norms on this matter, approving plans for new buildings, and making decisions on the more important issues."

So the bishop, through his diocesan commission on liturgy and sacred art, can lay down norms for how churches are to be constructed or remodeled and can even mandate that all such plans must be personally approved by himself. The implications of this are astounding when you think of it. Any bishop could:
  • Create a diocesan commission on liturgy and sacred art whose members are all wholly committed to the restoration of Eucharistic piety and make this the matrix through which they view all changes to church structures.
  • Direct all parishes to replace table altars with wall altars suitable for ad orientam celebration.
  • Mandate all tabernacles be placed in the center of the sanctuary.
  • Approve only sacred art that is traditional and tasteful.
  • Establish certain norms for the appearance and materials of sacred objects such as altars, ambos, etc. that ensure a traditional aesthetic.
  • Prohibit the use of "Resurrectifixes" in parish sanctuaries.
  • Decree that every parish must have—and utilize—a functional altar rail.
  • Only allow traditional stained glass windows, not weird 1960's Pablo Picasso looking window images.
  • Mandate all parishes must have pews with kneelers; no more chairs.
  • Approve only those renovations which are based on some sort of traditional design (i.e., no more space ship churches).
  • Establish a fund for the express purpose of helping less well-off parishes pay for the most important restorations.
  • Decree that all monstrances meet certain artistic standards and aren't ugly, modern looking objects.

And these are only considering the prerogatives that flow from a bishop's specific authority over church buildings and those who serve at the altar. If we step back and look at a bishop's general competency over his flock as pastor of the diocese, he has even more opportunities. He could:

  • Celebrate his own Masses in the cathedral in such a way that offers the faithful an exemplary model of Eucharistic piety.
  • Insist on these norms when he travels and celebrates Masses in the parishes of his diocese.
  • Go on a tour of all his parishes promoting Eucharistic adoration and Eucharistic chapels.
  • Call for more Eucharistic processions as well as preside over more of them personally.
  • Hire individuals in the offices of religious education and catechesis who are committed to the truths of the Eucharist and promoting Eucharistic piety and decree that all such catechists working in parishes be committed to a similar vision—and encourage and back up pastors to dismiss such catechists as do not affirm these things.
  • Ensure that proper Eucharistic doctrine is taught in diocesan seminaries; forbid the use of such texts as question or belittle the understanding of the Eucharist.
  • Make Eucharistic adoration a regular, structured part of the formation of seminary candidates and in general instill in seminarians a love for the Holy Eucharist. 

Now, thus far we have only considered what an individual bishop can accomplish. But the initial complain we twere evaluating came from the USCCB, the national episcopal conference of the United States. When we look at what a national episcopal conference has the authority to do, the scope of episcopal negligence becomes more appalling. GIRM 390 says:

It is up to the Conferences of Bishops to decide on the adaptations indicated in this General Instruction and in the Order of Mass and, once their decisions have been accorded the recognitio of the Apostolic See, to introduce them into the Missal itself. These adaptations include
  • The gestures and posture of the faithful (cf. no. 43);
  • The gestures of veneration toward the altar and the Book of the Gospels (cf. no. 273);
  • The texts of the chants at the entrance, at the presentation of the gifts, and at Communion (cf. nos. 48, 74, 87);
  • The readings from Sacred Scripture to be used in special circumstances (cf. no. 362);
  • The form of the gesture of peace (cf. no. 82);
  • The manner of receiving Holy Communion (cf. nos. 160, 283);
  • The materials for the altar and sacred furnishings, especially the sacred vessels, and also the materials, form, and color of the liturgical vestments (cf. nos. 301, 326, 329, 339, 342-346).
Directories or pastoral instructions that the Conferences of Bishops judge useful may, with the prior recognitio of the Apostolic See, be included in The Roman Missal at an appropriate place.
This is extremely broad. The USCCB could call for universal communion on the tongue and kneeling. In such places where the Missal says standing or kneeling are acceptable, they could mandate kneeling. The could ordain a specific set of approved chants for Holy Communion. According to the last bullet point, the USCCB could direct that only traditional liturgical vessels and vestments be used.

Now, of course, all of this has to be approved by the Holy See with the Apostolic recognitio if it were to actually be incorporated into the GIRM in use in the United States, and who knows how that would go. But that's beside the point; the fact is, they have never even tried.

This is why the episcopal hand-wringing over "What can we do about Catholics' lagging belief in the Real Presence?" doesn't arouse my sympathy. The contemporary American hierarchy has made no effort to solve the problem because they are too dependent upon the masses of quasi-believing Catholics to keep the diocesan apparatus functional—and they fear the backlash of what would happen should they try to actually change things. And so nothing happens, and they wonder why the problem persists; to again quote Ned Flanders' parents, "We've tried nothing and we're all out of ideas."

Let us pray for our bishops, that they will find the courage to do what needs to be done and trust in God to give the increase where man has sown and watered.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Chesterton's Cause is Dead

This week his Excellency Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, U.K. announced that he would not be opening a Cause for the beatification of G.K. Chesterton. The bishop listed three reasons, two of which are excellent and the third of which is nonsense:
"That conclusion is that I am unable to promote the cause of GK Chesterton for three reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, there is no local cult. Secondly, I have been unable to tease out a pattern of personal spirituality. And, thirdly, even allowing for the context of G K Chesterton’s time, the issue of anti-Semitism is a real obstacle particularly at this time in the United Kingdom" (source).

I want to address these concerns one at a time before offering my own opinion on the matter.

The first reason given by Bishop Boyle is lack of a local cult. This is actually one of the best reasons to not advance a candidate to the altars. Remember that the entire process of canonization is supposed to begin with the existence of a stable local cultus. The process of canonization is essentially supposed to take that cultus as a starting point for proposing that the candidate's cultus be extended to the Church Universal (for an extensive study on this, please see our article "Canonization and the Early Church"). The lack of any local cultus really is an exceptionally strong reason a person should not be advanced to regional or universal veneration. A universal cultus is proposed to the faithful based on the existence of a stable underlying local cultus. And it makes clear that Chesterton's universal popularity does not equate to a religious cultus. So I absolutely approve of this rationale.

The second reason given is that the bishop was "unable to tease out any pattern or personal spirituality." My goodness, if this isn't a great reason for not opening someone's Cause, I don't know what is. I have to say, based on his writings and based on what I know of his life, GKC never struck me as a man with a disciplined spiritual life. He struck me as incredibly insightful, capable of perceiving profound beauty, and of elucidating timeless truths in a manner unparalleled, but he never struck me as a personally holy man. His writings are treasured beyond question; but if we are considering him for sainthood, then I am more interested in questions like how often did he go to confession? How often did he pray? What kinds of penances did he do? Did he go to daily Mass? Adoration? What were his personal devotions like? Was his spiritual life orderly? What was his spiritual reading like? Did people who knew him consider him holy—not just good-natured, jovial, or charitable, but holy? And here the man in charge of investigating GKC says that he can't find any pattern of personal spirituality. If that's true, then that's a pretty darn good reason for not proposing Chesterton for veneration. Have we lowered the bar so much that a person who has no pattern of personal spirituality is considered a good candidate for sainthood?

I often hear proponents of Chesterton's sainthood arguing that his profound writings are sufficient evidence for his sanctity. "His insights are astonishing! What more proof do we need?" This reasoning is naive. Way back in 2009 I wrote an article on Chesterton's beatification ("Blessed GK Chesterton?"), and even then I had reservations due to the fact that people were tending to misunderstand the nature of sanctity, substituting instead the idea of a Chesterton as a "role model" and citing Chesterton's writings in lieu of any evidence of real holiness. Ten years ago I said:


I appreciate the praise of Chesterton's work, but a beatification is about the man, not is work. I once heard (I think on EWTN, maybe on some Catholic Radio station) a certain lay apologist make the errant claim that St. Thomas Aquinas was canonized solely by virtue of his writings and not because of his personal holiness. Anyone who has studied the canonization proceedings of any saints from the 13th or 14th centuries knows that everything revolves around personal sanctity. Saying Chesterton was innocent and humble, and then going on to praise his writing, is really not enough for me to jump on the bandwagon, however much I love Chesterton...
I love G.K. Chesterton. His writings have moved me profoundly and have been very formative in my intellectual and spiritual development, both when I was a young man and to this day. Furthermore, I know countless souls who have similarly benefited from his works. But the writings do not the whole man make. This is about supernatural virtue, not profound writings. It does not matter whether it is Chesterton, or Cardinal Newman, Fulton Sheen, Mother Teresa or Paul VI. We should not be afraid of asking questions about these people, because ultimately we want God to be glorified, and God is glorified by true sanctity, not by papering over or dismissing valid objections. (source)

Now, the third reason the bishop gives is a nonsense reason. The issue of "anti-Semitism", which he goes on to say is a "real obstacle particularly at this time in the United Kingdom." With this comment, he is admitting that this might not have been an obstacle in another time or place, but because of the current socio-political climate with its endemic political correctness, Chesterton's comments on Jews—even understood in the context of their timemake him persona non grata in the milieu of modern, hypersensitive 21st century Britain. This is especially ridiculous because we expect a beatification or canonization to be about the objective state of a person and whether or not they can be considered holy and worthy of veneration. When the bishop cites things like the current sensitivity level in a specific country, he is moving the discussion from the objective realm to one of pure subjectivity. Is Chesterton a saint or not? Depends on the zeitgeist I guess. So I think this argument is a bad one. And I don't believe Chesterton was actually anti-Semitic. But the bishop thought opening his Cause might upset some Jewish Brits. So there it is.

Interestingly enough, the bishop did not bring up what I consider to be another good argument against Chesterton's canonization, and one that was discussed a lot a few years back
—namely, Chesterton's famous intemperance with food and drink. No, I am not saying that just because he was large. No, I am not saying this because he smoked and drank liquor. I am saying this simply because existing biographical accounts present him as a man who lacked temperance when it came to food and drink. Now, I know there is going to be some ignorant commentator who says, "Uhhhhh...yeah but St. Thomas Aquinas was overweight...duhhhhh." THIS. IS. NOT. ABOUT. CHESTERTON'S. WEIGHT. I do not look at an overweight person and go, "Ugh, they must be intemperate." Weight may be an indication of intemperance, but cannot establish it. Rather, this is about the well-documented anecdotes of his intemperate and even gluttonous behavior when it came to food and alcohol.

Back in 2014, I wrote an article about this ("This is Not About Chesterton"); a person who lacks a fundamental cardinal virtue cannot be considered saintly, and based on the extant biographical and anecdotal evidence about Chesterton, the man certainly did not possess temperance when it came to food and drink. Or if he did possess it, it was certainly not in a heroic degree. I wrote then:

"Remember, a saint possesses not only natural virtue, but supernatural virtue. This means, of course, faith, hope and charity to a heroic degree, but it also means that even the saint's natural virtues are elevated and oriented towards supernatural ends. For example, a virtuous man has formed the habit of prudence, which is the virtue of being able to identify and pursue the good in particular circumstances; i..e, of making good decisions. The saintly man, however, not only exercises natural prudence, but also demonstrates supernatural prudence; i.e., the virtue of prudence ordered towards supernatural ends, meaning exceptional discernment and good sense in spiritual matters.
Now, since supernatural virtue is a requisite of sainthood, and since grace builds on the natural virtues, it follows that a person who lacks even one of natural cardinal virtues cannot be "saintly" in the strict sense. Natural virtue is the foundation of supernatural virtue; if a natural virtue is obviously lacking, they cannot possess the supernaturalized version of that virtue which is built upon the natural. We may still have an exceptionally virtuous person, but nevertheless one with a major defect that makes it inappropriate to classify them as a saint. A person certainly cannot possess supernatural temperance if they lack even the natural virtue of temperance" (source).
I recommend reading the above cited article in its entirety as a background to this essay. Needless to say, my own position on this matter is that G.K. Chesterton, regardless of his indisputably brilliant writings, is not a suitable candidate for sainthood. I think Bishop Peter Boyle made the correct call in refusing to open a Cause, even if one of his reasons was specious. And I think people who want to ignore this and push through with a GKC canonization need to step back and consider all these matters and actually address them rather than just dismissing them. This isn't about ramming through "our guy." I adore GKC. He was an exceptional man and one of the greatest English writers ever. But not a saint. You don't need to be saintly to be a great writer. All you need to be is...a great writer. Heck, I'm no shabby writer myself, but that doesn't mean I'm an upstanding, exemplary Catholic. I'm just a so-so Catholic who happens to be good at explaining things. Get that concept through your heads.

Some objections:

"You can't trust a modernist bishop like Boyle to make the right call."

I know nothing about Boyle, but the fact is it's his call to make. And if God wants this to happen, then it will happen someday, regardless of Bishop Boyle. Also, you can't complain about the laxity of modern canonizations and then simultaneously complain that in this case the bishop was too strict with his criterion. To do so makes it look like we are only complaining about canonizations we don't like, which is what most Trads do, to be honest. "We mistrust modern canonizations, unless they are of someone we approve of." Are the canonization criteria too strict, or aren't they? If they're not strict enough, then you should rejoice that they screened out GKC. If they're already too strict, then that applies for Paul VI and John Paul II and Romero as well and these candidates all legitimately passed muster.

"It's just because Chesterton smoked and smoking is bad now."

No, the bishop doesn't mention that at all. Actually deal with the arguments put forward instead of obfuscating them.

"Oh, so you don't think G.K. Chesterton should be canonized but you accept the canonizations of men like Paul VI?"

Irrelevant. This is about GKC, not whomever else was canonized. Also, Paul VI is already canonized, while GKC never even made it to a beatus, so they are certainly in two different categories. And when Paul VI was not yet canonized I argued against his canonization as well. The fact that Paul VI made it to canonization is no argument that GKC should.

"Saints aren't perfect."

They are certainly not. But too often we can use this phrase to basically drop all standards. Saints are not 'perfect.' They do have sin. But, while they are not perfect, a saint is someone we expect to have attained a degree of victory over their sin. While I would never argue that saints must be sinless, I would also argue that a person who has capitulated to sin in one aspect of their life should not be considered a saint. Saints are those who, while having sin like all of us, labor to attain victory over that sin. There are compelling arguments to suggest that Chesterton fundamentally failed in his battle against drunkenness and gluttony, which signifies a lack of temperance. If this were true, Chesterton did not have victory over these vices but rather succumbed to them—they may even have contributed to his death (see also: "Saints Aren't Perfect", USC, 2013).

Bottom line is we can respect and laud and honor Catholic heroes without insisting that they be canonized. It is good that Bishop Boyle refused to open Chesterton's Cause because he really was not a saintly man. An exemplary writer? A light in the darkness? A bold apologist? Absolutely to all three. A saint? It does not appear so.