Friday, June 29, 2012

Blessed Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul!

Blessed Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul to you all! This Feast day, besides celebrating the glorious martyrdoms of the two most eminent apostles during the reign of Nero, also is the anniversary of this blog, which was first launched by Anselm and myself on June 29th, 2007 while we were both employed as DRE and Youth Director at our local parish. That was five long years and over 800 posts ago.

Thank you for your continued patronage of this blog. May you be richly blessed. Pray for me, a sinner.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Head of St. John the Baptist

In honor of the Feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24th), I thought it would be fun to tackle a question that bothered me for sometime: If the head of John the Baptist was presented to Herodias by Salome after the infamous dancing incident at King Herod's birthday party, how did the Christian community ever get possession of John's head?

There are various places that claim to possess the head of St. John the Baptist. In the west, the two most notable locations are Amiens Cathedral and the Church of San Silverstro de Capite in Rome. The skull on display in Amien is clearly traceable to the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade (1204); the origin of the claim of the church in Rome is less certain. There are also several other churches that claim to have the Baptist's head, whole or in part, and some places that claim other related relics (Aachen Cathedral claims the cloth that his decapitated head was wrapped in, for example).

There is no way to verify any of these claims. But one question that I have wondered about is how the Church came into possession of his head at all. Let's look at the narrative of John's execution from the Gospel of Matthew:

"...on Herod's birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them: and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath, to give her whatsoever she would ask of him. But she being instructed before by her mother, said: Give me here in a dish the head of John the Baptist. And the king was struck sad: yet because of his oath, and for them that sat with him at table, he commanded it to be given. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a dish: and it was given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body, and buried it, and came and told Jesus" (Matt 14:6-12, Douay-Rheims).

It states very plainly that John's disciples came and took the body. This presents no problem, for presumably the body was cast out after John's execution and his disciples were easily able to retrieve it. But how would they have retrieved his head? Scripture says plainly that the head of John was given to Herodias by Salome. Beyond this, Scripture says nothing. Yet within a few generations, we see the Head of John the Baptist being venerated at Sebaste in Samaria. So how did the Church get his head back?

I can think of four explanations:

1. Herodias gave the head back to John's disciples

I can't see that this as a tenable theory. Herodias must have known that possession of the head by John's followers would create a focal point for veneration of John's memory, and serve to instigate further disillusionment with the Herodian Dynasty. I cannot see any situation in which she would have willingly returned the head to John's followers?

2. Herodias buried the head and later Christians found it

This is a traditional theory that has some merit to it. Nicephorus and Symeon Metaphrastes, two obscure Greek historians writing centuries after the fact (14th century and 10th century) state that the head was buried by Herodias in the fortress of Machaerus and later found miraculously by the local Christians. Another tradition has it being discovered in the Herodian palace in Jerusalem during the time of Constantine, then transfered to Emesa where it was later discovered by revelation in a dream. These theories are plausible, but they all depend upon invoking a direct revelation from God which, while certainly not improbable (e.g. the discovery of the relics of Gervasius and Protasius by St. Ambrose through a dream), it depends upon the validity of some very, very late testimonies.

3. Someone in Herod's household took the head and gave it to John's disciples

This is the explanation I prefer. While it is unlikely that Herodias returned the head to John's followers, I do not think she personally would have kept the head in close proximity to her either. I guess we could posit a situation where the vengeful woman kept the skull on her bedside table to perpetually gloat over her victory over John, but I think it more probable that after the head was presented to her by Salome, she probably either discarded it or had it casually tossed away. Pagans and those of the Greco-Roman culture (like Herodias) had a very superstitious fear of dead bodies and I don't think she would have wanted to hang on to the severed head. Therefore, I think that after seeing the head brought to her by Salome, she probably gave it to a servant or slave and instructed them to dispose of it discreetly - get it out of the household, but not let it fall into the hands of the followers of John or Jesus.

This theory makes more sense when we realize that Herodias and King Herod had some believers in his household. The Scriptures tell us that the wife of Herod's chief steward, Chuza, was a follower of Jesus:

"And it came to pass afterwards, that he travelled through the cities and towns, preaching and evangelizing the kingdom of God; and the twelve with him: And certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities; Mary who is called Magdalen, out of whom seven devils were gone forth. And Joanna the wife of Chusa, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who ministered unto him of their substance" (Luke 8:1-3)

This Joanna was a very devoted follower of Christ; in fact, she was one of the first witnessed to the Resurrection:

"When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles" (Luke 24:9-10).

As Herod's chief steward, it is probable that Chuza was given the head by Herodias with instructions to discreetly dispose of it. Chuza probably then entrusted the head to Joanna, a disciple of Jesus, who in turn brought it into the Christian community. To me this explanation makes sense, is plausible and is supported by what the Scriptures tell us.

4. The head has never been found and all the claimants are fakes

This is certainly possible, though I don't believe the head of the man who even in his own day was known as the forerunner of the Messiah and the one whom Jesus acclaimed as the greatest of those born among women (Luke 7:28) would be simply lost to history.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Are the Bayside Apparitions False? Yes.

I have been having a lot of discussions with a friend of mine lately about the alleged "Bayside Apparitions" of Veronica Lueken (for the background of the Bayside apparitions, see here). I have not done nearly as much research on Bayside as I have on Medjugorje, but from what I have been reading it has some of the same problems - disobedience to the local bishop when he does not condone the visions of the seer, bizarre "warnings" foretold, miracles the whole world will see, and thousands upon thousands of banal messages - in fact, the Bayside messages are even more awkward and banal than those at Medjugorje, if that were possible.

Bayside also has some unique elements to it, such as the insistence that Pope Paul VI was murdered or kidnapped in 1972 and replaced by an actor who had plastic surgery and a coming "Ball of Redemption", a comet that will strike New York City, and belief in the Rapture.

After spending several days mired in these messages, I cannot but conclude that they are complete hogwash. The Bayside Apparitions are a hoax. Here are some reasons why I have come to this conclusion:

All religions have a place in heaven?

"For My Father's House, My Son has repeated over and over: remember always that My Father's House-there are many rooms in the Mansion, signifying faiths and creeds. However, the Eternal Father, the Beatific Vision, is reserved for the Roman Catholic following. This it has been deemed by the Eternal Father since the beginning of time." - (Our Lady of the Roses (Blue Book), the “messages” of Bayside, published by Apostles of Our Lady, Inc. Lansing, MI, 1993, p. 81.)

Here the visions clearly state that, although Catholics have a special place in heaven, other "faiths and creeds" also go to heaven. This is clearly heretical.

False prophecy about the Ball of Redemption

“Our Lady” of Bayside, June 18, 1988: “Do not be affrighted, My child; you must see this, for it is important. Within this century this Ball will be sent upon mankind… It is almost too late… a Ball that is fast hurtling towards earth! It will be here within this century, if not sooner.” (Our Lady of the Roses (Blue Book), p. 108.)

Note the Ball is said to be sent "within this century." This prophecy was given in 1988. Therefore, the fact that by 2000 this had not yet happened proves conclusively that this is false. We should always remember Deuteronomy 18: "When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing follows not, nor comes to pass, that is, the thing which the LORD has not spoken, but the prophet has spoken it presumptuously: you shall not be afraid of him...a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death" (Deut. 18:22, 20).

Televisions are sinful?

“Our Lady” of Bayside, Sept. 27, 1975: “I have, many times, cautioned you, and all My children, against the use of the diabolical machine, your television. There will be no excuses for having these in your presence.” (Our Lady of the Roses (Blue Book), the “messages” of Bayside, published by Apostles of Our Lady, Inc. Lansing, MI, 1993, p. 86.)

This is absurd. Obviously televisions can be used in sinful ways - but are they really diabolical? According to Bayside, we can have absolutely no televisions. There is "no excuse", not even watching pious or faith building movies or programs? Clearly the Bayside people themselves don't believe it since the Our Lady or the Roses website sells Bayside DVDs. This teaching directly contradicts the teaching of the Second Vatican Council document Inter Mirifica on social communication, which states:
"Among the wonderful technological discoveries which men of talent, especially in the present era, have made with God's help, the Church welcomes and promotes with special interest those which have a most direct relation to men's minds and which have uncovered new avenues of communicating most readily news, views and teachings of every sort. The most important of these inventions are those media which, such as the press, movies, radio, television and the like, can, of their very nature, reach and influence, not only individuals, but the very masses and the whole of human society, and thus can rightly be called the media of social communication. The Church recognizes that these media, if properly utilized, can be of great service to mankind, since they greatly contribute to men's entertainment and instruction as well as to the spread and support of the Kingdom of God... support should be given to good radio and television programs, above all those that are suitable for families. Catholic programs should be promoted" (Inter Mirifica, 1-2, 14).

Maybe our Lady did not mean to condemn television absolutely; if not, the words are sloppy and imprecise, as it says there is "no excuse" for ever having a television. Mary here says the television is of diabolical origin; the Church says they were made "with God's help." The messages conflict at worst and are ambiguous at best.

Falsehoods about Paul VI

"Your Father, in the eternal city of Rome, Pope Paul VI, your Holy Father, is a blessed man, for he carries his cross. Your Holy Father is a blessed man, for he shall be martyred." - Our Lady, June 18, 1977

Paul VI was not martyred; he died naturally in 1978. Another false prophecy. This seems to contradict a prophecy made two years earlier which stated that Paul VI had already been replaced by an "impostor" look alike, one of Bayside's most notable and bizarre aspects:

"He is not able to do his mission. They have laid him low, My child. He is ill, he is very ill. Now there is one who is ruling in his place, an impostor, created from the minds of the agents of satan. Plastic surgery, My child--the best of surgeons were used to create this impostor." - Our Lady, September 27, 1975

"The appearance in public is not Paul VI; it is the impostor pope. Medication of evil has dulled the brain of the true pope, Pope Paul VI. They send into his veins poison to dull his reasoning and paralyze his legs. What evil creature have you opened the doors to the Eternal City and admitted?"- Our Lady, September 27, 1975

"In the city of Rome there will be great confusion and trial. Satan, Lucifer in human form, entered into Rome in the year 1972. He cut off the rule, the role of the Holy Father, Pope Paul VI."- Our Lady, September 7, 1978

So was or was not Paul VI replaced by an impostor in 1975? The 1975 apparitions say so, but the 1977 apparition speaks of him as still in power and warns of his impending martyrdom, which did not happen. They could perhaps say that he was secretly murdered or poisoned to get him out of the way, but that would not be a martyrdom. Regardless, this stuff about Paul VI being replaced with an impostor is, in my opinion, nonsense.

Falsehoods about John Paul II

“Our Lady” of Bayside, June 18, 1988: “Please, My children, pray for your Holy Father, the Pope. You must not lose him, for the one who comes after him will destroy if he can – he will attempt to destroy Pope John Paul II.” (Our Lady of the Roses (Blue Book), p. 108.)

Pope Benedict XVI has come after John Paul II. Benedict has not tried to destroy John Paul; on the contrary, he has beatified him and is pressing for his canonization. This prophecy was clearly false.

"Pray for your Vicar (Pope John Paul II). There will be another attempt upon his life. Pray for your Vicar. Do not judge him by the medias, for he is a good man, with a heart that is soft, and often he can be misled. However, he is a good man, and he is one who I keep now under My mantle for his protection. But We need your prayers, My children, your Masses and your sacrifices, if you want him to remain among you." - Our Lady of the Roses, June,30, 1984

In 1984 it was predicted that there would be another assassination attempt on John Paul II. But there wasn't. Nobody every tried to kill John Paul II again after the first 1981 attempt. This is another false, unfulfilled prophecy. Granted, there were other alleged conspiracies to kill John Paul II, but nothing like a real attempt. One could always say that the attempt was thwarted by the prayers of the faithful - but then again, one can always allege that a purported judgment or calamity did not happen because the prayers of the people forestalled it. It is a perpetual out for these people whenever a prophesyed judgment does not materialize.

"When Pope John Paul II is removed, the Church shall be divided among itself. United it will stand, divided it will fall." - Our Lady, March 18, 1983

This simply has not happened. The Church is more united now under Benedict XVI than it was in the 80's under John Paul II. The 80's were the nadir of the Church's unity - things have gotten much better, not worse, since the death of John Paul II.

False rapture doctrine

Most troubling is that the Bayside apparitions promote the false Protestant "rapture" doctrine, which is clearly a heretical teaching that no Catholic ought to hold.

"Remember, without prayers and atonement, the world will become devastated. The Third World War will leave no earth upon the land. There will be no earth, there will be no human beings; but a grouping would have been taken up into Heaven, My child and My children, to await the terrible devastation that falls upon mankind." - Jesus, May 28, 1983

""I give you great grace of heart, My children, to know that many shall be taken from your earth before the great Chastisement.... Many of your news medias shall state that they have been carried off by flying saucers. Oh no, My children! They were carried off into a supernatural realm of the Eternal Father to await the return of My Son upon earth." - Our Lady of the Roses, December 7, 1976

This is the Protestant rapture theory plain and simple - a group of elect taken away from the earth prior to the second coming. And by the way, someone should tell the Virgin Mary that the plural of media is media, not "medias."

Communion in the hand errors

I have to be clear here: I totally am against communion in the hand and have written about this many times. It is a practice that dissolves the boundary between the laity and the clergy and opens th door to too many potential abuses. But it is not an absolute evil. The apparitions say some things about this that cannot be true:

"Pastors, no hands other than those consecrated by a legally-ordained priest shall give the Host to others." Our Lady, August 21, 1975

Okay, first, it is bishops, not priests, who ordain other priests, so Mary really needs to get her ecclesiology straight, but anyhow-

"Communion in the hand has not been, and will not be accepted by Heaven. This is a sacrilege in the eyes of the Eternal Father, and must not be continued, for you only add to your punishment when you continue on in the ways that have been found to be unpleasing to the Eternal Father." - Our Lady, June 30, 1984

Communion in the hand has not been accepted by heaven? That is funny, since it was practiced for centuries in the Early Church. While communion in the hand might not be prudent, it is too much to say it is not accepted by heaven. In the Early Church and for the firsts several centuries of Christianity communion was given in the hand. This was the practice of all the great saints of the Early Church, including the apostles. Over time, the church in the Middle Ages changed the discipline to prevent certain abuses and safeguard the dignity of the sacrament, as it was their right to do. This was the discipline until the modern Church restored the practice.

Now, we might rightfully debate whether or not this was a good idea, but how can our Lady say communion in the hand cannot be accepted by heaven when it was the practice in the universal Church for the first six or seven centuries? We even have a saint, St. Tarcisius, who was layman that was martyred while trying to take communion to someone else - i.e., while holding Holy Communion in his hand.

Also, although restoring communion in the hand in the modern age may not be prudent, none of the accepted rites or disciplines or the Church can be positively harmful or diabolical in and of themselves. They might be bad ideas; they might lend themselves to abuses, but in themselves they cannot be harmful if they are authorized by the Church. Otherwise, the Church would be promoting something that was sinful through its rites, which can never be the case. Otherwise, the role of the Church as the dispenser of God's graces is nullified.

"Loss" of baptismal identity?

Bayside seems to teach that one can lose one's baptismal character and identity as a Roman Catholic:

"I ask you all not to abandon My Church. Do not judge My Church by the priest, for in his human nature he can err. But I assure you I am using him, as a legally ordained priest, to bring you My Body and Blood. Do not go seeking elsewhere, for you will lose your baptismal right, and you will no longer be accepted as a Roman Catholic, and you will not enter into the highest place of Heaven, the Kingdom of Paradise." - Jesus, October 6, 1980

Now, this is kind of ambiguous, I grant. Perhaps it means that by leaving the Church you lose sanctifying grace, and that would be acceptable. But it does not say that. It says leaving the Church causes one to lose their "baptismal right" and no longer be viewed as a Roman Catholic. If taken literally, this would be problematic.

The teaching of the Church is that baptism confers and indelible mark or character that can never be effaced, no matter what sin or apostasy the person commits. Grace may be lost, but the character of baptism may never be lost. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic - perhaps a bad Catholic, perhaps a fallen away Catholic, but always a Catholic. This is another example of the imprecise language rampant in the Bayside apparitions that detracts from their credibility.

Antichrist Pope

In many places, the apparitions suggest that the antichrist will be a pope:

"The Rock has always withstood the test of time. But one will be entered into the House of God, and woe to man when he places him upon the Seat of Peter, for then the Great Day of the Lord shall be at hand." - Our Lady, March 18, 1974

Now I know this is contested and I am not 100% certain on this, but it seems to me that most reputable theologians do not believe the antichrist will be a Pope. It would mean that the promise given to Peter that the Gates of Hell would never prevail against the Church would be compromised; how could it not be if the source of the Church's unity was the antichrist? The antichrist as Christ's vicar? The Fathers of the Church do not ever suggest that this is possible; the antichrist is seen as a false prophet, as a political leader, but never as the pope himself. I would say this teaching is very troubling and will cause the faithful the mistrust and suspect the papacy rather than listen and be taught by it.

Bayside also teaches that the antichrist is currently living and walking around. One of Veronica's messages delivered by our Lady:

There is not much time left, My child, to gather the sheep. Know that the Antichrist, the Antichrist, My child, is walking upon your earth. He goes and follows wherever there is darkness." -Our Lady to Veronica, Dec. 28th, 1974

He must be getting old - this prophesy was delivered in 1974, thirty-four years ago. So according to Bayside, the antichrist will take the Seat of Peter and was alive and walking around in 1974.

Names of Guardian Angels

In Catholic spirituality, it has traditionally been seen as dangerous to call on the names of angels other than those specifically mentioned in the Bible; simply because our private revelations are not infallible, and you never know who or what you are calling on. Yet Bayside seems to direct Christians to call on mysterious angels that we know nothing about:

"You must ask your guardian angel to ever guide you upon your way. You will also inform Tomdarius that he must keep pure and holy thoughts in his mind. Yes, call upon Tomdarius, My child. You must keep pure and holy thoughts in your mind. My child, this will be a secret for you, Tomdarius, and the soul he guards." - Our Lady, May 15, 1976

This is not heretical as much as reckless and dangerous. No spiritual director would tell you to call out an unknown angel by name like that. Only Michael, Raphael and Gabriel should be addressed by name since they are the only names we know. Who is Tomdarius? Is he an angel? A demon? Should we call out to something when we don't know what it is? There is a good reason that the Church's cultus of saints and angels consists of those who have some sort of formal recognition of being part of the City of God.

"Back in 1970, when Our Lady started Her work here, She assigned special archangels to us.... Every one of the close workers has been given the name of his archangel. And I was assigned one of the highest archangels with Michael--Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel, and his name is Tusazeri. And we've had other archangels that were given to workers.... But we had Sactorius, and of course there's Tomdarius.... It sounds very, very strange: Sactorius, Tomdarius, Razene, Rientre, and I can't remember them all now." - Veronica's commentary, 1974

"There is no reason to fear, My child, for you have Creazuus now with you and Tuzaseri." Veronica - Oh! Creazuus? Creazuus. Oh, Creazuus is the angel guardian given to my son Raymond while he was here on earth. "Our Lady, thank you. Thank you, Blessed Mother." - Our Lady, March 18, 1974

This is all very questionable. Creazuus? Tuzaseri? Who knows what these things are. And if they were revealed to Veronica by heaven, why can't she remember their names, as she says above? I have never heard of legitimate seer or visionary forgetting part of a message from God.

Sometimes, the angels in apparitions behave frivolously:

"Yes. There's Tomdarius, Tusazeri--he is my guardian angel, but he's quite a clown. He likes to circle around. And right now he's turning and spinning again. He always does that when he sees me; he turns and spins. And now also, there's Razene, and Nadina, and many others." - Veronica, October 1, 1988

One of the judgements on whether or not an apparition is true, according to spiritual masters, is "Do we find that the dignity and seriousness which become the Divine Majesty?" What is the purpose of this frivolous description of an angel acting like a clown? When an apparition behaves like this, it suggests it is not legitimate (see here for an earlier post on criteria for judging private apparitions).


Another question in evaluating an apparition is: "Have the sovereign pontiffs and the bishops believed this to be so, and have they assisted the progress of the work?" In other words, whether or not a bishop/bishops accept the apparitions is not just a reflection of their personal sentiment, but is actually a judgment of whether the visions are valid at all. In this both Bayside and Medjugorje share something in common, as in both cases the adherents of the vision blatantly disobey their local bishop's requests that the alleged apparitions not be promoted. Bayside's followers profess obedience, but in practice they are being disobedient:

"For to whom much is given, much is expected; and discipline and obedience means suffering and sacrifice. Unquestioning love, unquestioning obedience, that is the only way to Heaven." - Jesus, May 30, 1981

Unquestioning obedience. Yet the local bishop has directed people to stay away from Bayside prayer vigils and events and has asked the faithful not to disseminate the writings or messages of Veronica. From the bishop's directive:
"No credibility can be given to the so-called "apparitions" reported by Veronica Lueken and her followers...Because of my concern for their spiritual welfare, members of Christ's faithful are hereby directed to refrain from participating in the "vigils" and from disseminating any propaganda related to the "Bayside apparitions." They are also discouraged from reading any such literature. Anyone promoting this devotion in any way, be it by participating in the "vigils," organizing pilgrimages, publishing or disseminating the literature related to it, is contributing to the confusion which is being created in the faith of God's people, as well as encouraging them to act against the determinations made by the legitimate pastor of this particular Church (c.212, para. 1)."
Bayside proponents have countered that the process the bishop has used was improper and therefore his decision is invalid. Whether or not this is the case, it does not justify disobedience. If they really have a case that their bishop acted against canon law, the Bayside proponents should appeal to Rome and in the meantime be obedient until directed otherwise. To just state, on one's own authority, that the process the bishop used was flawed and then continue in disobedience is a big warning sign.

When Our Lord said "he who hears you hears Me", He was not instructing his followers to "hear" that which "pleased them" - but to be obedient to lawful authority (even if those in lawful authority were sinners - even mighty sinners) in matters of Faith and Morals, such as alleged apparitions. Bayside is bunk. Medjugorje is bunk. Garabandal is bunk.


Friday, June 15, 2012

SSPX and Vatican Reconciliation Imminent?

It is official. The Vatican has offered the SSPX a personal prelature as the mechanism by which the Society of St. Pius X and Rome can be officially reconciled. The SSPX can avail itself of Rome's offer only by submitting to the much discussed "Doctrinal Preamble" that was proposed in Fall of 2011 and presumably will mean a consensus on some of key points of doctrine surrounding Vatican II.

The Doctrinal Preamble has not been made public and we have no idea what it contains, but I think we can infer that it must be very generous to the Society. If this were not the case, negotiations would have never gotten this far.  Had the Vatican's demands been too exacting, or the doctrinal conditions too stringent, or the Preamble set up in such a way as to deprive the SSPX of its fundamental charism, there is no way Bishop Fellay would have continued the talks and allowed them to go this far. An SSPX reconciliation would an impossibility were the Preamble too demanding. Thus, I think we can presume that the Preamble proposes only the most basic requirements on the Society, those minimally necessary to put them in good standing with the Church - probably an acceptance of the legitimacy and authority of Vatican II and of the Novu Ordo Missae.

If this is the case, there will still be room for discussion and interpretation of Vatican II within the Church. If the SSPX accepts the personal prelature, this certainly does not mean they are going to adopt the same outlook on everything as the mainline Church; Pope Benedict does not intend the reunion to necessitate this, nor would the SSPX agree to it if it did. As long as some basic points are agreed to by the Society, the agreement leaves in place a future discussion on the issues dear to the Society and Traditionalists.

This fact is of fundamental importance, because in essence, it means that the Pope is affirming that a valid debate about Tradition and Vatican II can take place among Catholics all in good standing with the Church. The discussion on the role and importance of Tradition will now take place within the context of the Universal Church. In allowing leeway for the SSPX to retain its charism and still be part of the dialogue on Tradition within the Church, the Pope affirms that the SSPX charism and some of their critiques of the modern Church are indeed legitimate, so long as they occur within the guidelines laid down in the Doctrinal Preamble.

Or, to put it more plainly: While we must affirm the authority and complete legitimacy of Vatican II, the agreement will signal that there is no official historiography of Vatican II.

Other opinions on the role and influence of the Council are valid. Questioning the fruitfulness of the Council will no longer equate with dissent.

But will the rest of the Society follow Fellay into union, should the personal prelature be accepted? John Allen at the National Catholic Reporter, like many mainstream commentators, treated the news and possibility of reunion with skepticism. It is amusing to me how reunion with Protestants and Eastern Orthodox are often spoken of as if they are immediate possible realities while reunion with the SSPX is usually seen as an impossibility. Even so, Allen's piece in the NCR is spot on when it says,

"The most likely scenario, therefore, is that when the dust settles, there will still be a traditionalist body on the outside looking in, presumably still led by validly ordained rebel bishops, but reduced in size and significance because some of its former members and leadership will be back in Rome's good graces."

Should the SSPX accept the personal prelature, the Traditionalist schism will still not be entirely healed. Many SSPX will refuse to reunite with Rome; my guess is that these remnants will ultimately become Sedevacantists or adopt some other bizarre heresy and drift off into oblivion, much like the Old Catholic Church.

For my part, I am of course presuming that the Doctrinal Preamble requires nothing of the SSPX beyond what is reasonable to ensure their loyalty to the Universal Church. I am presuming that the Doctrinal Preamble is going to be perceived as very generous, and by the liberals, much too generous. Assuming this is the case, if the SSPX does not agree to this arrangement - if they continue to nit-pick on minutae, or insist that Rome "convert" before they can even begin discussions, or if they continue to attack the person of the Holy Father, I will lose all respect for their organization. The fact that these negotiations are even happening was inconceivable prior to 2005. Things have come so tremendously far in seven brief years. The Holy See is sincerely reaching out and trying to bring them in, knowing that the reunion of the SSPX with the Church would mean tremendous blessing to all - the Church will have an infusion of some of the best educated and best formed clerics in the world, while the Society will obtain canonical legitimacy and all the graces that come from being in full union with the Successor of Peter.

I hope the SSPX realizes that this is a question of their very existence. If they reject this offer (or if a portion of them do), whomever remains outside the Church will dwindle in numbers, in support, and finally will spin off into formal heresy. That's what always happens. Those of the SSPX who do not take up this offer and return to Rome will cease to have any significance in the coming years.

I hope Bishop Fellay will do the right thing here and end this tragic schism. Pray for the reunion of the SSPX and the Holy See.

Monday, June 11, 2012

St. Cyprian on the Eucharist

For the past year, I have been working through all the writings of St. Cyprian of Carthage in the process of putting together a book on the great Father. [Now completed; click here to purchase] In honor of the Feast of Corpus Christi, celebrated earlier this week, I present to you some of greatest quotes from St. Cyprian on the Eucharist.

These two stories from On the Lapsed relate accounts of those who had lapsed during the Decian persecution attempting to receive Holy Communion before being properly reconciled to the Church:

"[A] woman who in advanced life and of more mature age secretly crept in among us when we were sacrificing, received not food, but a sword for herself; and as if taking some deadly poison into her jaws and body, began presently to be tortured, and to become stiffened with frenzy; and suffering the misery no longer of persecution, but of her crime, shivering and trembling, she fell down. The crime of her dissimulated conscience was not long unpunished or concealed. She who had deceived man felt that God was taking vengeance" (On the Lapsed, 26).

"[W]hen one, who himself was defiled, dared with the rest to receive secretly a part of the sacrifice celebrated by the priest; he could not eat nor handle the holy of the Lord, but found in his hands when opened that he had a cinder" (ibid.)

Here Cyprian reflects on the connection between being in union with Christ through the sacrament of His Body and being in union with the Church, which is His mystical body:

"Christ is the bread of those who are in union with His body. And we ask that this bread should be given to us daily, that we who are in Christ, and daily receive the Eucharist for the food of salvation, may not, by the interposition of some heinous sin, by being prevented, as withheld and not communicating, from partaking of the heavenly bread, be separated from Christ's body, as He Himself predicts, and warns, "I am the bread of life which came down from heaven. If any man eat of my bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world." When, therefore, He says, that whoever shall eat of His bread shall live for ever; as it is manifest that those who partake of His body and receive the Eucharist by the right of communion are living, so, on the other hand, we must fear and pray lest any one who, being withheld from communion, is separate from Christ's body should remain at a distance from salvation; as He Himself threatens, and says, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you shall have no life in you." And therefore we ask that our bread— that is, Christ— may be given to us daily, that we who abide and live in Christ may not depart from His sanctification and body" (On the Lord's Prayer, 18).
Here are some more quotes by the good Bishop of Carthage on the Eucharist; note the connection between the the blood of Christ being consumed as preparation for the martyr shedding his own blood for Christ:

"But now indeed peace is necessary, not for the sick, but for the strong; nor is communion to he granted by us to the dying, but to the living, that we may not leave those whom we stir up and exhort to the battle unarmed and naked, but may fortify them with the protection of Christ's body and blood. And, as the Eucharist is appointed for this very purpose that it may be a safeguard to the receivers, it is needful that we may arm those whom we wish to be safe against the adversary with the protection of the Lord's abundance. For how do we teach or provoke them to shed their blood in confession of His name if we deny to those who are about to enter on the warfare the blood of Christ? Or how do we make them fit for the cup of martyrdom, if we do not first admit them to drink, in the Church, the cup of the Lord by the right of communion?" (Letter 53:2)

"[T]he soldiers of Christ ought to prepare themselves with uncorrupted faith and robust courage, considering that they drink the cup of Christ's blood daily, for the reason that they themselves also may be able to shed their blood for Christ" (Letter 55:1).

"Let us also arm the right hand with the sword of the Spirit, that it may bravely reject the deadly sacrifices; that, mindful of the Eucharist, the hand which has received the Lord's body may embrace the Lord Himself, hereafter to receive from the Lord the reward of heavenly crowns" (Letter 55:9).
Though a more precise sacramental theology would not arise until the later Middle Ages, Cyprian makes some early contributions to the ideas of matter and form when he addresses the problem of certain Churches attempting to consecrate the Eucharist with water instead of wine. Note his statement that the blood cannot "appear" to be in the cup unless the proper form (wine) is present: 

"For when Christ says, "I am the true vine", the blood of Christ is assuredly not water, but wine; neither can His blood by which we are redeemed and quickened appear to be in the cup, when in the cup there is no wine whereby the blood of Christ is shown forth, which is declared by the sacrament and testimony of all the Scriptures" (Letter 62:2).

St. Cyprian frequently refers to the offering of the Eucharist as a sacrifice and calls the Mass "the sacrifices of God." For example:

"Yea, it is the great honor and glory of our episcopate to have granted peace to martyrs, so that we, as priests, who daily celebrate the sacrifices of God, may prepare offerings and victims for God" (Letter 52:3).
"[W]e ought in the ordinations of priests to choose none but unstained and upright ministers, who, holily and worthily offering sacrifices to God, may be heard in the prayers which they make for the safety of the Lord's people" (Letter 67:2).
Finally, on the wonderful effects of receiving the sacrament of the Lord's Body and Blood:

"When the blood of the Lord and the cup of salvation have been drunk, the memory of the old man is laid aside, and there arises an oblivion of the former worldly conversation, and the sorrowful and sad breast which before was oppressed by tormenting sins is eased by the joy of the divine mercy; because that only is able to rejoice him who drinks in the Church which, when it is drunk, retains the Lord's truth" (Letter 62:11).

St. Cyprian, ora pro nobis!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Intellectualizing Marriage?

The prevalence of divorce within Christian groups as opposed to the divorce rate in the world at large has long been an occasion of discussion. Divorce statistics are tracked by age group, but if you average the divorce rates across different ages groups, we get an average divorce rate of 18.5% for couples under 39 in the United States (source). Unfortunately, it has long been documented that divorce rates among Christians are little better than divorce rates in the world. This is true of all Christian groups; with some, it is higher - non-denominational Christians and baptists have divorce rates that are higher, on average, then their secular counterparts. Catholics are lower on the list, but unfortunately, still not too much different from the world.

A Barna study on this subject found the following rates:

Denominations and Percent Divorced

Non-denominations            34%
Baptists                                  29%
Mainline Protestants           25%
Mormons                                24%
Catholics                                21%
Lutherans                               21%

This poll elicited a lot of anger in the evangelical Protestant world particularly, where it was typically accepted a priori that Christian families were stronger than secular families. Barna had to defend his results in a New York Times article where he reaffirmed that when it came to divorce rates, pollsters "rarely find substantial differences" in the divorce rates of Christians and non-Christians. 

In the Protestant world, I am willing to bet that the ultimate acceptance of divorce and remarriage as permissible has something to do with it. When I was a teenager, my wife and I attended a small non-denominational church where I was stunned to find that almost every single adult couple there had been divorced and remarried.

To be sure, there has been a general trend towards divorce in the modern world that is affecting the Catholic Church as well. But why does the Church's traditional teaching on the indissolubility of marriage not have the force it once did? There are many factors - worldliness of many Catholics would be a big factor - but without denying the influence of these other factors, I'd like specifically to look at the issue of Catholic marriage preparation and the tools that Catholic couples are given going in to marriage.

Since there has been such a creeping of worldliness into the Church in the past several decades, could it be that we are perhaps taking a worldly approach to our marriage preparation as well? Why not? We have adopted secular theories about architecture, secular ideas about the role of the priest, about how Church government should work, about the nature of different sacraments, about music and even secular concepts creeping into our approach to certain dogma. Should we presume that our approach to marriage or marriage preparation is any different?

I must say that I did not have Catholic marriage prep. I was married in a schismatic group that was not bound by any diocesan regulations about marriage preparation. All I know about marriage prep comes from anecdotal stories, and everything I am reporting is anecdotal. But from what I have heard, it seems that, even in our best dioceses, there is a creeping worldliness that has bled into our marriage preparation.

In the first place, I would highlight an over dependence on modern psychological theories about how men and women interact. Some dioceses require compatibility tests that are based on personality analyses; many of these tests are secular and have an unnecessary emphasis on sexuality and ask a lot of sexual questions. In some cases, the results of these personality-compatibility tests are made the central focus of the entire marriage prep process. Advice on how to handle conflict is based on the latest theories of psychologists and secular concepts of how men and women do, or should, interact. Standard secular ideas about "conflict resolution" may be utilized.

Whether you find this problematic depends entirely on how much value you place on modern psychology. Some, like Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP, has written a massive three volume series on the science of psychology and how it interacts with the Catholic Faith. His treatment is based on a Thomistic approach and seriously questions the philosophical underpinnings of modern psychology. Others, notably Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, have enthusiastically adopted the whole edifice of modern psychology without reserve. To what degree is modern psychology a valid means of understanding our Christian faith and preparing one for the sacraments?

To be sure, some aspects of psychology have valid scientific principles behind them, but others are based on a determinist anthropology that sees human behavior as determined by non-rational factors (chemical makeup of the brain, heredity, instinct, subconscious, etc). This, in my opinion, is problematic.

But whether or not any given marriage prep program adopts the modern psychological theories, it seems that too much emphasis on strategies of conflict resolution, personality compatibility and all these other concepts tends to dumb down the role of God's grace in the marriage. If a marriage is successful, it will be because of God's grace, not because we have integrated the latest psychological research into our marriage preparation courses. The marriage does not stand or fall based on knowledge of how men and women's emotional needs are different. It stands or falls based on how effectively a man and a woman can imitate Jesus and Mary and respond positively to God's grace made available through the sacrament.

Can it be that we over intellectualize our approach to marriage, deeming that a marriage can be made successful by knowledge and application of a bunch of secular psychological principles? Do we place too much faith in the studies and theories of psychologists and not enough in the working of God's grace? If the divorce rates within the Catholic Church look a lot like those in the world, might at least part of the problem be that we are using worldly ideas to prepare people for marriage?

Marriage prep programs vary tremendously from parish to parish and diocese to diocese, so I am making no hard statements here, only proposing something that I think merits further discussion. What do you think?