Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Renewal Prayer for the Deaf Catholic Church

The Revd Fr Michael Depcik OSFS has composed a beautiful prayer for the renewal of the Deaf Catholic Church. As he respectfully indicated at the recent National Catholic Office for the Deaf's annual Pastoral Week, the Deaf Catholic community is "in crisis" for lack of new, qualified pastoral workers and sacred ministers.

Readers are cordially invited to click here and follow the prayer he composed. Please take time out of your schedule every Friday to pray this "Renewal Prayer for the Deaf Catholic Church."

As the Director of the Mark Seven Bible Institute, I have decided that this prayer will be signed in common every morning and that the intentions of this prayer will be remembered at each celebration of the Eucharist.

Happy praying!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Prayer of Blessed +John XXIII, P.P.

Almighty God! In Thee we place all our confidence, not trusting in our own strength. Look down benignly upon these pastors of Thy Church. May the light of Thy supernal grace aid us in taking decisions and in making laws. Graciously hear the prayers which we pour forth to Thee in unanimity of faith, of voice, and of mind.

O Mary, Help of Christians, Help of Bishops, of whose love we have recently had particular proof in thy temple of Loreto, where we venerated the mystery of the Incarnation dispose all things for a happy and propitious outcome and, with thy spouse, St. Joseph, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, intercede for us to God.

To Jesus Christ, our most amiable Redeemer, immortal King of peoples and of times, be love, power, and glory forever and ever.

Blessed +John XXIII, "Gaudet Mater Ecclesia,"
Opening Speech at the Second Vatican Council,
11 October 1962

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Sacred Liturgy and Mystagogy in the Catholic Deaf Community

One of the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Church in our times is the restoration of the catechumenate (Sacrosanctum concilium, 64). Through three distinct steps and three distinct periods, the seeker comes to know Christ, to submit their lives to him, and ultimately to be incorporated into His Mystical Body (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 4-8).

The culmination of the liturgical year, of course, is the Paschal Vigil. At the Exsultet, the cantor reminds us of the role played by water in the economy of salvation:

This is the night when first You saved our [ancestors]:
You freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.
This is the night when Christians everywhere,
washed clean from sin
and freed from all defilement
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.
The power of this holy night
dispels all evil, washes guilt away... (Paschal Vigil, Missale Romanum, 18).

During the Liturgy of the Word, the Church proclaims the gift of water and its relation to the mystery of baptism (Gen 1:1-2:2; Ps 104; Exodus 14:15-15:1; Isaiah 55:1-11; Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28; Rom 6:3-11, to name but a few).

Imagine, if you will, the candidates for baptism being attentive to the words of the Exsultet and the proclamation of the Scriptures; when the celebration reaches the Liturgy of Baptism, the presider recites an astonishingly beautiful prayer of consecration over the waters, one that again summarises the role of water in the economy of salvation (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 222). And, after the mighty reminders of water as bearers of sanctifying grace, the candidate submits to a baptism of a few drops of water on the forehead! Instead of being the culmination of the symbol of water throughout the Paschal Vigil, the rite of baptism is reduced to an anticlimatic moment. As Fr Dennis Smolarski SJ, professor at Santa Clara Univeristy's School of Pastoral Ministry explains,

It is often overlooked that the rubrics show a preference for baptism by immersion. The General Introduction of Christian Initiation states that immersion "is more suitable as a symbol of participation in the death and resurrection of Christ." Baptism by immersion has been in use for centuries by Eastern Catholics, by Orthodox Christians, as well as by various Protestant denominations. When someone enters the waters of teh font and becomes completely covered with water, the truth that baptism is an entry into the tomb with Christ as well as a bath for cleansing is conveyed quite dramatically to all present (Dennis Smolarski, Sacred Mysteries [New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1995], 39).

Yet most of us are content to do the least amount of work in the celebration of the sacraments. In the long run, our mystagogical catechesis becomes impoverished; tactile expressions of the faith, which finds a unique home in Deaf culture, is suppressed, and yet another opportunity to catechize the Deaf is tragically lost.

Liturgical minimalism has been the historic disease infecting the Roman Rite. The post-Tridentine Scholastics, in discovering necessary and sufficient conditions for each sacrament, unwittingly became accomplices in the reduction of the sacramental symbols to their absolutely minimal requirements. For baptism, at least water on the forehead and the canonical form became the standard. For Eucharist, at least a piece of unleavened bread and wine mixed with water and consumption of both species by the presider alone became the standard for Holy Communion. As a result, liturgy and catechesis gradually became estranged from each other; during the Tridentine period, handing on the faith was reduced to the propositional model of Revelation, with little if any "hindsight" of the sacraments and their catechetical weight. I am convinced that because the Eastern Church has resisted the tendency towards minimalism, they have been able to easily retain sacramental catechesis. (Cf. Maxwell Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation [Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007], 189f.)

It would be helpful to recall a significant shift in St Thomas Aquinas' sacramental theology. Whereas earlier in his Sentences, Peter Lombard thought that the necessity of sacramental symbolism was due to the obscurity of human reason by sin and concupiscence, St Thomas argued that the symbolism carried an intentional pedagogical value. His famous sacramental dictum, "The sacraments effect what they signify" should remind us that the value of the sacramental signification should not be reduced to merely the effects. In other words, indeed there is the sanctifying grace communicated through the sacraments, but there is also the grace that enlightens our understanding of the Mystery of Christ highlighted by the sacramental celebration itself. As the supreme magisterium teaches:

The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the body of Christ, and, finally, to give worship to God; because they are signs they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it; that is why they are called "sacraments of faith" (Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum concilium, 59).

But can we admit of an instructional value when the sacramental signs are minimzed and reduced to their absolute minimum? Of course not.

When I began ministry with the Deaf, a senior colleague, herself a religious sister, gave me the feedback more than once, and always with a derisive tone: "Words, words, words," as though what I said was completely missed by a Deaf audience whose culture was more narrative than literary. Though I was too young to appreciate it at the time, I now understand that she was perhaps more right than she realised!

Recall, for example, St Mark the Evangelist's penchant for details: Jesus "stretched out his hand and touched" the untouchable leper (1:41); his use of spittle and soil, then "groaning" before healing the deaf man (7:34); taking the blind man "by the hand" out of the village (8:23); taking "a little child and put it among [the disciples]; and taking it in his arms" (9:36). Each of these teachings by Jesus was prefaced by a symbol that was palpable and self-explanatory. These moments must have been so profound so as to remain vivid in the memory of St Peter, who according to tradition was the source of Mark's narrative.

Jesus' example of using symbols and gestures is the paradigm of sacramental celebration.

It is precisely for this reason that, in the celebration of the sacraments, the sacred ministers and pastoral workers who serve the Deaf be allowed to make gratuitious use of the symbols in the celebration of the sacred liturgy. It is difficult to understand Christ as the Living Bread when, contrary to the Church's laws, the Sacred Body is served under the appearance of paper-thin sheets of carbohydrates (cf. General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 321). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is better symbolized by the pouring of the Sacred Chrism rather than tracing a dab of oil on the forehead. Most importantly, catechesis on being "buried with Christ" makes far more sense in the context of one's experience of baptism by submersion rather than infusion (cf. Rom 6:3-6). The gratuitious use of symbols--being tactile expressions of the faith--addresses Christ within the peculiarly Deaf milieu of visual communication.

The neophytes are, as the term "mystagogy" suggests, introduced into a fuller and more effective understanding of mysteries through the Gospel message they have learned and above all through their experience of the sacraments they have received. For they have truly been renewed in mind, tasted more deeply the sweetness of God's word, received the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and grown to know the goodness o the Lord. Out of this experience, which belongs to Christians and increases as it is lived, they derive a new perception of the faith, of the Church, and of the world (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 245).

Dr Edward Peters notes that "[a]s a rule of thumb, 90% of Catholics receive 90% of their exposure to things Catholic at Mass on Sunday." When one factors in the small number of Deaf Catholics, most of whom attend Mass only during Christmas and Easter, the urgency of going "all out" with liturgical maximalism becomes even more imperative. It is surprising how the most frequent symbols at Mass become drowned in a sea of words and movements--numerous times Deaf Catholics have asked me about "that white round thing I ate"! How can we expect to catechize members of the Catholic Deaf community if their experience of the sacraments have been minimal?

Indeed, celebrating liturgies with symbols that are allowed to speak for themselves requires work. But given Dr Peter's rule of thumb (above), we cannot afford to do any less. I know for a fact that Holy Angels Church of the Deaf in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles holds weekly meetings with its entire pastoral staff in order to plan the next Sunday's liturgies--they often run up to three hours or "As long as it takes" as the pastor, Fr Thomas Schweitzer once told me. It is not sufficient to ride on the momentum of the pre-established Ordinary and Propers of Mass--any pastoral team needs to plan and implement the inculturation of the liturgy in the Deaf community. How many Catholic Deaf parishes can rival Holy Angels Church's liturgical and sacramental diligence, if at all?

Ecclesial life is essentially liturgical. Our Catholic identity does not rely upon memorization of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit or the eight Beatitudes; rather, our Catholic identity is rooted in the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church. Our awareness of Catholic doctrine, then, arises from a double anamnesis: the anamnesis of the Paschal Mystery and the anamnesis of our own celebration of the sacraments. Can we honestly say that our experience of the Sacraments of Initiation or of other liturgical celebrations are truly palpable enough to become the stuff of catechesis? If not, then how will we proclaim the faith to the Deaf without using "words, words, words"?

Not "words," but beauty that breaks through sacramental symbols. Dostoyevsky was right when he said that "beauty will save the world," and beauty will indeed save Catholic Deaf ministry. Our liturgies should inspire Deaf people the same way that it inspired the envoys of Prince Vladimir when they entered the Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople: "We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth, but we know that God dwells here among his people, for we cannot forget that beauty." Yet how many of us can describe our Deaf liturgies as beautiful?

What might be some specific suggestions? I can think of five to start with:

  1. The Paschal Vigil should really be the culmination of the liturgical year (General Norms for the Liturgical Year, 18). Thus diligent planning should prepare for the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation: baptism by submersion, generous pouring of the Sacred Chrism for Confirmation, and liturgically correct Eucharistic Bread that resembles food. Not only that, but other symbols should be palpable enough to be self-explanatory: a vigorous Paschal fire, a beautiful, perhaps home-made, Paschal Candle that remains lit until the conclusion of Great Paschal Vespers (General Norms for the Liturgical Year 19).
  2. As "windows into heaven" and "theology in colour", icons corresponding to the mystery in Christ's life being celebrated should be displayed and venerated, especially during the Lenten/Paschal cycle. In particular, PowerPoint slides of various icons corresponding to each article in the Creed would help the participant in worship to identify the story or narrative being proclaimed.
  3. A "running commentary" on the sacramental celebration should be avoided, except by way of reminding the congregation to be "on the lookout" for certain symbols and gestures. Then each gesture and symbol ought to be made with the greatest deliberation and articulation so as to be easily identified in one's memory when the catechist (or mystagogue) recalls them in a session of teaching the faith.
  4. Liturgical environment, especially that of cathedrals, provides a rich source of mystagogy. The symbols associated with the episcopal office such as the cathedra and the presbyterium serves to proclaim priests as "co-workers with the bishop" (Presbyterorum ordinis, 2); the mitre, crozier, ring, pallium (if the bishop is a metropolitan), and pectoral cross, expresses the meaning of "local Church" and its relation to the "universal" Church (Ceremonial of Bishops, 1-17).
  5. It is indeed an impoverished mystagogy of the Scriptures when they are proclaimed from a sheet of paper as is often the case in Deaf parishes. St Benedict's Parish for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing in San Francisco, to cite one example, uses a beautiful leather binder with a Celtic cross on the cover for inserting loose-leaf lectionary readings. The liturgical law is specific when it discusses the dignity of the book from which the Scriptures are proclaimed: "In a special way, care must be taken that the liturgical books, particularly the Book of the Gospels and the Lectionary, which are intended for the proclamation of the word of God and hence enjoy special veneration, really serve in a liturgical action as signs and symbols of heavenly realities and hence are truly worthy, dignified, and beautiful" (General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 349).

Again, this requires work, much work indeed. But we are not pastoral workers in order to retain the title "Pastoral Worker." We are pastoral workers in order to ensure the full inclusion of Deaf Catholics in the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church. Moreover, our pastoral work presupposes and requires the work of liturgical planning because liturgy is not the "work of the rubrics" upon whose momentum we can ride, but "work of the people" as Christ's "other Self" worshipping the Father. It is precisely as liturgizing that we "do Church", and it is only as Church that we are Catholics.


Bedard, Walter M. The Symbolism of the Baptismal Font in Early Christian Thought. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1951.

Irwin, Kevin W. A Guide to the Eucharist and Hours: Easter. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991.

Kavanagh, Aidan. The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991.

Paprocki, Joe, and D. Todd Williamson. Bringing Catechesis and Liturgy Together. Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 2002.

Richter, Klemens. The Meaning of Sacramental Symbols: Answers to Today's Questions. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1990.

Smolarski, Dennis C. Sacred Mysteries: Sacramental Principles and Liturgical Practice. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1995.

Wilde, James A., ed. Before and After Baptism: The Work of Teachers and Catechists. Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications, 1988.

Yarnold, Edward. The Awe-Inspiring Rites of Initiation: The Origins of the R.C.I.A. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Pres, 1994.

Friday, March 13, 2009

And Now, A Gripe...

I need to pick a bone.

But first, a story. A dear friend of mine, himself a canon lawyer and a consultant on liturgical law, shared with me an experience of his at a meeting of English-speaking liturgists and canonists with the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome. Representatives of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia were present.

At the meeting--there were twenty-five or so present--one of the officials of the Congregation was rattling off a list of liturgical abuses he'd heard of. Once, such-and-such happened. Again, this-and-that took place. He was visibly upset. And he should have been.

One of the participants raised his hand, "Excellency, this is all very terrible! But, where is this happening? We've never even seen such things!"

The laundry-list of liturgical abuses continued. A second participant raised his hand, "Your Excellency--we really don't understand. We've never heard of such things happening in our province."

The official of the Congregation pressed on with his denunciations. Finally, a third participant intervened, "Excellency, we really don't know what to say. None of this happens in my diocese. Where are these awful things taking place?"

The official was visibly annoyed, but the point was clear: When it comes to liturgical abuses, it's more urban legend than documented fact.

Another colleague of mine, the Director of Liturgy for a bishop at a major See in the western United States, has recounted innumerable stories of being sent by the bishop to investigate an alleged liturgical abuse, only to report that none was taking place, or at least admit a rather minor infraction. And this one chastised me for ranking Peter Elliot's Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite over the Ceremonial of Bishops! It's a burn I'm still recovering from...

This isn't to say that liturgical abuses do in fact take place. I've seen silly stuff happening at the Call to Action services. But I've also seen major infractions of the GIRM on Eternal Word Television Network's televised Masses. And believe me, Deaf people have an eye for detail, and it is difficult for even minor variations to escape my attention.

We should not glibly assume there aren't liturgical abuses taking place in the celebration of the 1962 Missal as well. I see them all the time. Catholics who attend the Extraordinary Form of Mass unwittingly talk of them.

But, my friends, abusus non tollit usum. That there are abuses in the celebration of Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI does not warrant either (a) an abandonment of said Missal or (b) a return to the Missal of John XXIII. Attendance at either of these Forms of Mass should arise from nobler reasons.

Anyone who reads the history of the Roman Liturgy can learn very easily that there have been abuses in the celebration of Mass since time immemorial. A history of the Reformation will often show, for instance, that presiders recited the Ave Maria at the Consecration rather than the Words of Institution. Moreover, there would not have been a "liturgical revival" in the decades up to the Second Vatican Council if there were no abuses taking place. For example, Gregorian chant was already in decline until the superb and excellent works of Dom Prosper Gueranger.

Now here's my gripe. Why should those who are partial to the Missal of Paul VI, especially when it is celebrated worthily and in accordance of the Church's laws, be made to feel responsile for liturgical abuses when they do take place? To be sure, Call to Action does a lot of silly things. But so does Eternal Word Television Network. But I won't be held accountable for their actions. Nor will the Missal of Paul VI be held accountable, any more than the Missal of John XXII or the Missal of Pius V be held accountable for the liturgical decline in the period before the Second Vatican Council

It seems to me that the eighties of the twentieth century was the worst time for liturgical abuses. But consider who may have been guilty of such abuse: priests who were formed in the decades prior to the period 1962-1965. Therefore it is precisely a pre-Vatican II formation that was responsible for liturgical havoc, not only formation subsequent to the Council.

And when abuses do take place, it is not the result of the Church's laws and the teachings of the Second Vatican Council; it is because of an ignorance of them. So the Council and the subsequent Consilium cannot be held accountable, only those who fail to assume their own responsibilities in familiarizing themselves with the documents and the legislation.

Again and again: abusus non tollit usum.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Divine Right of Bishops and the Ordinary Executive Power to Dispense from Law

Elsewhere in the blogosphere (I decline to indicate where), a debate has ensued regarding the power of a local bishop ("Ordinary"; see can. 134.1) to dispense from a merely ecclesiastical law. The particular debate surrounds the viri selecti rubric of the Rite of Mandatum (Lotio pedum) on Holy Thursday, whether the local bishop is able to override the rubric which restricts the gender of those whose feet are washed to men (see Missale Romanum, "Missa in cena Domini", n. 6; cf. Paschales Solemnitatis, n. 51).

Does a diocesan bishop have the right to dispense from a merely ecclesiastical law?

In 1962, Karl Rahner and Josef Ratzinger co-authored a volume of the Quaestiones disputatae (vol. 4), titled The Episcopate and the Primacy, a study on the extent and limits of both papal and episcopal power. In the first section, "The Episcopate and the Primacy", Rahner asks whether the constitution of the Church which holds simultaneously that the pope has "supreme and full power of jurisdiction" that is "truly episcopal, ordinary, and immediate both over each and every church and over each and every pastor and faithful..." is internally inconsistent (16; cf. 1917 CIC, can. 218 and 329.1). Does not pontifical power encroach upon the individual bishop who possesses his episcopal office "by divine right"?

We cannot forget the doctrine of the bishop's power "by divine right"--it has been taught solemnly by the Council of Trent (Session 23, Chapter 4; Denzinger 1767) and again at the First Vatican Council:

The power of the Supreme Pontiff is far from standing in the way of the power of ordinary and immedite episcopal jurisdiction by which the bishops who, under appointment of the Holy Spirit, succeeded in the place of the apostles, feed and rule individually, as true shepherds, the particular flock assigned to them. Rather this latter power is asserted, confirmed and vindicated by this same supreme and universal shepherd, as in the words of St. Gregory the Great: "My honour is the honour of the whole church [sic]. My honour is the firm strength of my brothers. I am truly honoured when due honour is paid to each and every one" (Neuner and Dupuis 827; Denzinger 3061).

Ratzinger then calls attention to a pastoral letter issued by the German episcopate shortly after the close of Vatican I, the "Collective Statement of the German Episcopate Concerning the the Circular of the German Imperial Chancellor in Respect to the Coming Papal Election" in 1875. Among the theses of the "Collective Statement" identified by Dom Olivier Rousseau ("La vraie Valeur de l'Episcopat dans l'Eglise d'apres d'importants documents de 1875", in Irenikon 29 [1956], 121-150) is that "The pope cannot arrogate to himself the episcopal rights, nor substitute his power for that of bishops" and "the episcopal jurisdiction has not been absorbed in the papal jurisdiction." Ratzinger then points out that the "Collective Statement" received "the express and unqualified endorsement of Pius IX" (40). Thanks to the suggestion of then-Father Ratzinger, the "Collective Statement" has been installed in Denzinger (nn. 3112-3116). It reads thus in English:

It is in virtue of the same divine institution upon which the papacy rests that the episcopate also exists. It, too, has its rights and duties, because of the ordinance of God himself, and the Pope has neither the right nor the power to change them. Thus it is a complete misunderstanding of the Vatican decrees [e.g. Aeterni Patris] to believe that because of them "episcopal jurisdiction has been absorbed into the papal", that the Pope has "in principle taken the place of each individual bishop", that the bishops are now "no more than tools of the Pope, his officials, without responsibility of their own." According to the constant teaching of the Catholic Church, expressly declared at the [First] Vatican Council itself, the bishops are not mere tools of the Pope, nor papal officials without responsibility of their own, but, "under appointment of the Holy Spirit, they succeeded in the place of the apostles, and feed and rule individually as true shepherds, the particular flock assigned to them" (Neuner and Dupuis 841; cf. Denzinger 3115).

When we come to the Second Vatican Council, the teaching of Vatican I and the German episcopate are conjoined, first in Lumen gentium 27: "The bishops govern the churches entrusted to them as vicars and legates of Christ... This power which they exercise personally in the name of Christ is proper,ordinary and immediate, although its exercise is ultimately controlled by the supreme authority of the Church... " The decree continues, "By virtue of this power, bishops have the sacred right and duty before the Lord of making laws for their subjects, of passing judment on them and of directing everything that concerns the ordering of worship and the apostolate." In the decree Christus Dominus, 6, the supreme authority teaches: "As the legitimate successors of the apostles and members of the episcopal college, bishops should ever be conscious that they stand together and they should let it been seen that they are solicitious for the good of all the churches." In article 8a, the decree reads, "As successors of the apostles, the bishops in dioceses entrusted to them possess as of right the ordinary power necessary for the exercise of their pastoral office. This power belongs to them as bishops and rests in their own hands, always without prejudice to the universal power which, in virtue of his office, the Roman pontiff possesses of reserving cases to himself or to some other authority."

The supreme authority is clear on its teaching of the bishop's divine right. In fact, this is precisely what we mean by "bishop"--the Greek noun episkopos means "overseer" or "superintendent", which has unmistakable connotations of authority and jurisdiction (cf. B.D.A.G. 379-380). This is precisely why the cathedra is the primary symbol of the bishop's exercise of his office, since it is from the chair that he governs his see.

Then, with respect to the power of dispensing from an ecclesiastical law, the Council teaches: "By the general law of the Church all diocesan bishops are given the power of granting dispensations in particular cases to the faithful over whom they hold canonical authority, whenever they judge it to be for their spiritual good. This power does not extend to cases which have been specially reserved byt he supreme authority fo the Church" (Christus Dominus, 8b).

This authoritative doctrine on the divine right of bishops, as well as his power to dispense from a merely ecclesiastical law, is legislated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law which naturally follows the Second Vatican Council (cf. Sacra disciplinae leges).

In order to understand ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the three powers of governance must be distinguished, "legislative" power as the power to legislate laws; "executive" power as the power to execute laws, and "judicial" power as the power to judge (can. 135.1, 2, 3).

An Ordinary, being the diocesan bishop having "competant ecclesiastical authority" over his territory, possesses executive power (can. 134.1) as we have already seen from the Council of Trent, the "Circular Letter" of the German episcopate, and the Second Vatican Council. As such, the Ordinary, having this "ordinary executive power" thus has the power to dispense from a merely ecclesiastical law (can. 85). Even those laws issued by the supreme authority can be dispensed by the Ordinary (can. 87.1) insofar as it is not a procedural or penal law. Such a dispensation must have a "just and reasonable cause."

As Eduardo Baura, extraordinary professor of general canon law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross explains, "The power of a diocesan bishop to dispense universal laws is executive, ordinary and proper..." (A. Marzoa, J. Miras, and R. Rodriguez-Ocana, Exegetical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, vol. 1 [Chicago, IL: Midwest Theological Forum, 2004], 656.) More specifically:

Since the CIC views dispensation as something proper to the administrative function, it establishes that it is conceded by an authority whith executive power (c. 85), without the obligation to identify himself with the author of the law. "Therefore, it can be affirmed that the power of the diocesan bishop to dispense universal laws--that are goverened by the rules of the executive power--is a part of the proper and immediate ordinary power that comes witht he government of the diocese" (656, emphasis added).

With respect to liturgical law, insofar as it is a merely ecclesiastical law, Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Letter Sacram Liturgiam issued motu propio wrote,

Finally we wish to emphasize that—beyond what we in this apostolic letter on liturgical matters have either changed or have ordered carried out at the established time—regulation of the liturgy comes solely within the authority of the Church: that is, of this Apostolic See and, in accordance with the law, of the bishop. Consequently, absolutely no one else, not even a priest, can on his own initiative add or subtract or change anything in liturgical matter (art. 11, emphasis added).

Can a diocesan bishop who is an Ordinary dispense from a liturgical law in his own territory? Yes, insofar as it is a merely ecclesiastical law. Divine law remains intact; no bishop--not even the Bishop of Rome--for example, can change the Words of Institution, since that has been established by Divine Revelation. He can, however, change a law that is purely human--such as the size of sacramental bread, whether certain liturgical texts can be sung, and the derestriction of the Mandatum to men alone. The burden of proof lies with those who insist that the "viri selecti" rubric is a matter of positive divine law (cf. Summa theologiae, Ia IIae, q. 91). Father John Huels JCD, the incontestable English-speaking expert in canon law and professor of the same at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Ontario:

The diocesan bishop is the principal authority for the oversight and regulation of the liturgyin his diocese (canons 381; 391; 391; 835.1; 838.4). He has authority over the public exercise of the liturgy by all, including members of pontifical religious institutes (canon 678.1). He can enact liturgical laws, provided they are not contrary to universal laws (canon 135.2). He can grant dispensations from universal law, including dispensations from universal liturgical laws (canon 87). The universal law entrusts to the bishop authority to decide whether it is appropriate to use certain approved rites or practices, such as general absolution (canon 961.2) and eucharistic processions (canon 944). He also regulates non-liturgical prayers and devotions (canon 839.2). (More Disputed Questions in the Liturgy [Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications, 1996] 11).

Therefore, with reference to the bishop's divine right, the teaching of Trent, Vatican I, the German Episcopate (and approved by Pius IX), and Vatican II, as well as the Code of Canon Law, a bishop can dispense from a universal law, including a universal liturgical law.

Returning to our earlier discussion on the joint work of Rahner and Ratzinger, it is important to point out that not only is "episcopalism" an heresy--the notion that each bishop can exercise his authority freely without reference to the College of Bishops--but also "papalism" is likewise an heretical notion. As Ratzinger wrote, "In fact, according to the [First] Vatican Council, not only episcopalism but also papalism in the narrower sense must be regarded as a condemned doctrine, must be impressed much more efficaciously on the Christian consciousness than has been done to date" (44, emphasis added). Thus the attitude of "papalism," more popularly known as Ultramontanism, carries with it the attitude that bishops are not able to exercise their divine right--including the right to grant dispensations from a merely ecclesiastical law--and that only the Bishop of Rome can exercise the executive power of governance as a bishop. The blogger in question (cf. above) appears to espouse the heresy of papalism. As we have shown, the decrees of the ecumenical Councils and the Code of Canon Law fails to support his position.

In closing, I would like to share a story told twice by my professor of canon law, first in a course "Introduction to Church Law" and again in "Liturgical Law and Pastoral Practise." It deals precisely with the diocesan bishop's right to dispense from law.

When the late John Paul II came to Canada for his Apostolic Journey in 1984, he joined one of the bishops in an aerial trip across one of the northernmost dioceses. Northern Canada is desolate and often trips have to be made via helicopter or a small airplane.

The Ordinary who was accompanying the Holy Father was proudly "bragging" about the dedication of his presbyterate--how busy they are, how many of the faithful they serve, and how much they give without complaining. "Holy Father," the Ordinary said, "sometimes our priests celebrate four, even five Masses a day!"

"No, no, no" John Paul II interrupted, with his thick Slavic accent. "Canon law says a priest may celebrate Mass only at most twice a day," he corrected, referring to the law of bination (can. 905.2)

"But..." the Holy Father continued, tipping his white zucchetto to the Ordinary, "you are the bishop!"

This anecdote, our canon law professor said, serves to show that even the Bishop of Rome and the Pastor of the universal Church recognised and accepted the divine right of bishops to govern his own diocese and to dispense from a merely ecclesiastical law.

This posting is dedicated to His Eminence Cardinal +Roger MAHONY, Metropolitan Archbishop of Los Angeles. Ad multos annos!


Aquinas, St Thomas. Summa theologiae, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. New York, NY: Benzinger Brothers, Inc., 1947.

Catholic Church. Code of Canon Law, Latin-English Edition: New English Translation, trans. Canon Law Society of America. Washington, D.C: Canon Law Society of America, 1998.

Danker, Frederick William, ed. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Denzinger, Henrici. Enchiridion symbolorum definitonum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum, 38th Ed. Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2001.

Huels, John M. Liturgy and Law: Liturgical Law in the System of Roman Catholic Canon Law. Woodridge, IL: Midwest Theological Forum, 2006.

__________. More Disputed Questions in the Liturgy. Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications, 1996.

Neuner, Jacques, and Jacques Dupuis. The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, 7th rev. ed. Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 2001.

Paul VI, P.P. Apostolic Letter motu proprio "Sacram Liturgiam." Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1964.

Peters, Edward. The 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2001.

Tanner, Norman. Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, vol. 2. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1990.

Rahner, Karl, and Josef Ratzinger. The Episcopacy and the Primacy. Montreal, QC: Palm Publishers, 1962.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Mystery of Faith" in ASL

Here I would like to begin a series of ASL commentaries on the Ordinary of Mass, especially giving attention to certain liturgical texts which, in my opinion, fail to be conveyed in its original intent by way of commonly-used signs in the Deaf Catholic community. I would like to begin with the "Memorial Acclamation", that point immediately following the Words of Institution in which the presider says "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith" (or in the new translation, "The mystery of faith").

The Latin text simply reads mysterium fidei, "[the] mystery of-faith." What does it mean? From the way it is usually conveyed in ASL, one might guess that it means that object of faith which is incomprehensible, puzzling, secret, or supra-intellectual. This is the impression given by E. Costello, Religious Signing (New York, NY: Bantam, 1986), 122.

In point of fact, the English word "mystery" used here is wholly unrelated to the sort of mystery one finds in Murder She Wrote or Matlock. The Latin mysterium is actually a Grecanism, a noun borrowed from the Greek language, having nothing to do with 'mystery' in the conventional English sense (cf. Warren C. Trenchard, A Concise Dictionary of New Testament Greek [New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003], 104). Allow me to quote from Edward Foley's recently-reprinted From Age to Age: How Christians Have Celebrated the Eucharist (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2008), 74:

One of the ways this "Latinizing" process will affect Christian thought is through the translation and adaptation of Greek texts, like the New Testament. For example, the Greek New Testament does not speak about "sacrament" but about musterion. Musterion, which occurs twenty-seven times in the New Testament, is a difficult word to translate. It was a term that was employed in Greek philosophy and ancient mystery cults to designate rites in which devotees of a god celebrated and participated in the god's fate. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Septuagint the word appears nine times, and it takes on the sense of a divine mystery in the process of being fully revealed in the future. In the New Testament the term occurs when Jesus explains the purpose of the parables (e.g., Mark 4:11) or when Paul speaks of Christ as the "mystery of God" (Col 2:2), but it is never used to describe or explain worship.

One of the more common translations of the Greek musterion was the Latin sacramentum. As used by Romans, the word sacramentum had numerous legal meanings. For example, it could designate a sum of money that the parties to a lawsuit had to deposit with a magistrate before the suit would go forward. The "sacred"connotation of the word (Latin sacra = holy) comes from the practice of turning the money of the losing party over to the state for religious purposes. [...] More important for the history of Christian sacramentality, however, was the borrowing of the word sacramentum by Latin writers like Tertullian--the son of a soldier who understood the range of legal and political meanings of the word. By borrowing such a word, Tertullian inadvertently introduces legal connotations into a Christian understanding of worship that did not exist with the Greek musterion.

Obviously, the Latin sacramentum was used as the Roman inculturation of the Greek musterion. It means, primarily, a religious or cultic ceremony, and secondarily one such ceremony that was "secret" or "private", i.e., available only to the initiated. Liturgists would immediately recognise the custom of the disciplini arcana, the "discipline of the secret", in which only those who experienced the Sacraments of Initiation knew what "Eucharist" was all about.

Given this, then, it follows that the Mysterium fidei is a cultic rite pertaining to faith. The Scholastics were fond of speaking of the sacraments as precisely the "sacraments of faith" (e.g. Summa theologiae IIIa, q. 64, art. 2, ad 3). They were keen on maintaning the connexion between the sacraments and the theological virtue of faith (a connexion that was lost to juridical concerns by the Manualists and Neo-Scholastics).

This is why, for example, the post-baptismal catechesis is called mystagogy: it is a discourse for those who have been initiated into the sacred mysteries, namely the rites of baptism, chrismation/confirmation, and Eucharist. And of course, the introduction to the Penitential Rite at Mass begins, Fratres, agnosticamus peccata nostra, ut apti simus ad sacra mysteria celebranda--we are invited to acknowledge our sins before the "sacred mysteries" are celebrated. We do not mean something primarily baffling or that which makes us clueless; we mean a ceremony, ritual, or rite of sorts.

In the context of the Eucharistic Liturgy, the more specific meaning of Mysterium fidei, following the Memorial Acclamation, presents itself at the Anamnesis: "Calling to mind the death your Son endured for our salvation, his glorious Resurrection and Ascension..." The Anamnesis in the Eucharistic Prayer recalls precisely the Paschal Mystery! The event of Chist's Passion, Death, and Resurrection is the ultimate worship given to God; the Eucharist, according to the Council of Trent, is the re-presentation of this event (Denzinger 1741; cf. 3848). The Eucharist, in a way unique to itself, is the sacrament that proclaims precisely the Lord's Pasch (1 Cor 11:26). This "event", this "cultic rite", this musterion is the action which proclaims this Pasch which forms the foundation of Christian faith. It was no mere poetry when the supreme magisterium taught that the Eucharist is the "source and summit" of the Christian life (Lumen gentium, 11), because our life of faith is founded on both the tragedy of Good Friday and the Triumph of Easter Sunday. It is precisely for this reason we respond to the Mysterium fidei with the Memorial Acclamation--of the the three succint statements of the Easter event: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again", "Dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life, Lord Jesus, come in glory", "When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory." Each of these acclamations stress the event of Christ's Death and Resurrection in articulation of the "mystery of faith." The liturgy is its own best interpreter.

It was common, especially since Pope Innocent III, to think that Mysterium fidei meant the incomprehensibility of transubstantiation. St Thomas Aquinas certainly picked up on this. Not that Pope Innocent is entirely wrong, but the incomprehensibility of the change from bread and wine into the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ is to be subsumed into the events of that first Paschal Triduum, which was the ultimate worship given to God by Christ, the ultimate musterion. We cannot drive a wedge between the Real Presence and Easter; rather, the Real Presence is true because of Easter, and therefore the primary focus of our attention is indeed Easter, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.

As I hope it is obvious by now, Mysterium fidei is not a religious or liturgical way of saying "Huh? But I'll take it on faith." Rather, as an acclamation, it calls attention to the central, defining event of Christianity--the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ--which in turn defines our faith or belief.

I would therefore propose that in conveying Mysterium fidei in ASL, we retain the linguistic and theological overtones of the Greek noun musterion. Two signs can be proposed:

SACRAMENT [OF] BELIEF or FAITH (formal equivalency)

CELEBRATION [OF] BELIEF or FAITH (dynamic equivalency)

Since catechesis and liturgy are interrelated and symbiotic, we cannot expect to thrust a new way of signing the Mysterium fidei without any proper introductory catechesis. It would be, I think, a golden opportunity to re-introduce certain elements of the Ordinary of Mass to our Deaf congregations in hopes of enhancing that "full, conscious, active participation" in the sacred liturgy mandated by the Second Vatican Council (Sacrosanctum concilium, n. 14).

Readers are invited to post possible ASL signs for communicating Mysterium fidei.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Eucharistic Consecration in Sign Language

Some of my colleagues are well aware that I am in the middle of my M.Th. thesis, The Sacramental Validity of the Eucharistic Form in Sign Language. Even though I am a systematician by training, I've decided to approach a question of sacramental theology from the perspective of systematics, or more precisely, systematics and dogmatics.

My basic question is this: Would the Words of Institution, a.k.a. the "Consecration", be efficacious if they are proclaimed in sign language rather than spoken language?

When I studed canon law last year, my professor invited me to investigate whether the Code of Canon Law considers hearing loss to be an impediment to Holy Orders. In a classroom discussion that ensued when the professor raised the question, one student insisted that the voice of the consecration was necessary, and that the breath emanating from the celebrant saying the Words of Institution touching the bread and wine were in and of themselves efficacious. There seems to be a general assumption among many Catholics that this is the case.

This notion seems to arise from a reductionist understanding of "matter" and "form" in the sacraments. If the "form" is requisite for a valid celebration of the sacraments, it follows that the form can only take place audibly and vocally. The implication is that speaking audibly the sacramental form is an imperative of positive divine law.

I disagree.

Here, I would like to outline a few specific arguments in favour of the sacramental validity of the Eucharistic Form in sign langauge.
  1. The hylomorphic theory of the sacraments, i.e., that each sacrament consists of both "matter" and "form," has never been taught infallibly by the magisterium. As magisterium, only the Synod of Rome (1059, 1071) and the Council of Trent, Session XIII (1551) come close to defining the range of the Eucharistic Form; in the case of the Synod of Rome, the consecration is said to be effected by "the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of the Redeemer" (Denzinger 700); the Council of Trent speaks of the words of Christ, i.e., the "Words of Institution" as being efficacious (Denzinger 1637, 1642). According to Yves Congar, Francis Sullivan, Richard Gaillardetz, Joseph De Guille, and other experts in the area of magisterium, the "Decree to the Armenians" Exsultate Deo (Denzinger 1320) is in fact not an act of an infallible magisterium, and so it cannot be recruited to argue that the hylomorphic theory has been defined as either a dogma or definitive doctrine. At most, it remains a probable theological opinion and one that should not necessarily be dismissed but examined rather more closely.

  2. St Thomas Aquinas, following St Augustine (Tractaus LXX super Ioannem, 3) states specifically: "the word operates in the sacraments 'not because it is spoken,' i.e. not by the outward sound of the voice, 'but because it is believed' in accordance with the sense of the words which is held by faith. And this sense is indeed the same for all, though the same words as to their sound be not used by all. Consequently no matter in what language this sense is expressed, the sacrament is complete" (Summa theologiae IIIa, q. 60, art. 7, ad 1). The Angelic Doctor thus informs us that the power of the words is not inhered by the voice or the sound it makes, but rather to the belief they convey. Hence the intention of the minister.

  3. The locus of the efficaciousness of the Words of Institution is not, as St Thomas says, in the audible or vocal quality, but rather in the ministerial intention they manifest. St Thomas makes this explicit connexion between the "form" and the "intention": "[...] the sacraments require the intention of the minister" (S.th. IIIa, q. 60, art. 8, sed contra). Subsequently, he says: "When a thing is indifferent to many uses, it must needs be determined to one, if that one has to be effected. Now those things which are done in the sacraments, can be done with various intent; for instance, washing with water, which is done in baptism, may be ordained to bodily cleanliness, to the health of the body, to amusement, and many other similar things. Consequently, it needs to be determined to one purpose, i.e. the sacramental effect, by the intention of him who washes. And this intention is expressed by the words which are pronounced in the sacraments; for instance the words, 'I baptize thee in the name of the Father,' etc" (respondeo).

  4. Though there is an intrinsic connexion between the sacramental forms in general and the Eucharistic Form in particular, the connexion between the form and the effect of the form is purely analogous. The forms do not bear a causality to the effect of the Eucharistic Mystery, but speak analogously of the Mystery taking place. For example, when one staning next to a tree says, "This is a tree," that person is speaking of the analogy between the word "tree" and the referential tree itself. Whereas in six out of seven sacraments, the form begins with a verb, sometimes in the active voice (e.g. "I baptize you..."), sometimes in the passive voice (e.g. "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit). In the case of the Eucharist, we have the only sacrament whose form begins with a demonstrative pronoun: "This is my Body; This is my Blood." It appears that the notion of analogous language takes place in a unique way in the celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery, because whereas the sacramental action of baptism or absolution offers a grace that is momentary, the Eucharistic Form indicates a grace that remains even after the rite is complete--namely the Real Presence. Again, any efficacy to the sacramental forms, and especially to the Eucharistic Form, cannot be assigned to a physical causality but rather to an analogous causality. This is especially the case when one considers God to be the principal cause of the sacraments.

  5. The sacramental economy is sharply distinguished from magic or superstition in that the forms do not physically cause but rather proclaim. Hence there is a seamlessness between the Church's munera sanctificandi and the munera docendi. The forms, including the Eucharistic Form, proclaims the faith fo the Church. As such, whether they are spoken or signed is besides the point, because they serve to proclaim the Church's faith.

  6. Beginning with Fr Thomas Coughlin in 1977, the Holy See has generously offered its support for Deaf candidates to the presbyterate. When the late H.Em. +John Cardinal O'Connor sought permission from the Congregation for Catholic Education to establish a priestly formation programme for Deaf seminarians, the question of not being able to voice the Words of Institution was never raised. To this day, the prospects of a silent but signed Consecration is considered by the Holy See to be a non-issue.

These are my basic arguments for the sacramental validity of the Eucharistic Form in sign langauge. In constructing my argument, however, I will be dividing my thesis into two major parts, the "Dogmatic Way" and the "Systematic Way." The dogmatic part will trace the evolution of the theology of the Consecration from Sacred Scripture and the Fathers of the Church through the acts of the magisterium, especially the Council of Trent and the Eleventh Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The systematic way will attempt to reconstruct, in logical order rather than historical sequence, the constituent parts of the theology of Consecration, especially by re-visiting parts of Scripture often not taken into consideration in Eucharistic theology, and to engage the more speculative questions of analogy, intention, and language.

Your prayers on behalf of this research project would be much apprecaited. And your comments/feedback are encouraged so as to stimulate discussion.

For those interested, there are two excellent articles by the incomparable Dr Edward Peters on the question of ASL in the liturgy here and here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Extraordinary Form of Mass and Immunity from the Church's Supreme Authority

First, a disclaimer. I really have no bias against the Extraordinary Form of Mass, otherwise known as the "Traditional Latin Mass" or the "Mass of Blessed John XXIII." Once, a number of years ago, I attended one such Mass at an indult parish under the pastoral care of the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter in eastern Pennsylvania. And, of course, there are plenty of opportunities to experience them on YouTube.

I do, however, have a bias against the attitudes that many of the faithful carry with themselves when participating in such Masses. It is no secret that many members of indult parishes emit an odour of being "more Catholic" than the rest of the Church, particularly more than those who attend the Mass of Paul VI or the "Ordinary Form".

With this in mind, I would like to call attention to the question of "Catholic identity" and membership in the so-called "Traditionalist movement." It is not my intention to address members of schismatic groups of various strains of sedevacanism; I am interested in those Catholics who are in communion with the Successor of Peter and, incidentally, are bound by the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

Under the heading of "The Supreme Authority of the Church," the Code of Canon Law lists the authority of an ecumenical council (can. 336, 337.1).

However, according to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum concilium, specific measures of liturgical reform were issued, among which (to name but a few) are:

  • a simplification of the Roman Liturgy to reflect the principle of "noble simplicity" (no. 34);

  • "a more ample, more varied, and more suitable selection of readings from sacred scripture should be restored" (no. 35, 1);

  • recognition of the sermon which "is part of the liturgical action" (no. 35, 2);

  • proclamation of the Scriptures in the vernacular (no. 36, 2);

In what way can the celebrants of the Extraordinary Form of Mass, even since the establishment of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, be said to have implemented the reforms of the Council? Can it be honestly said that the Extraordinary Form exhibits a "noble simplicity"--with cluttered altars, servers kissing the cruets and censers, meticulus attention to the ductus of the incensation, and gestures that have lost their practicality?

What about the Lectionary? The proclamation of the Scriptures according to the Extraordinary Form still retains a limited repertoire of readings, with an extremely limited selection for the Commons. The Lectionary for Mass according to the Ordinary Form fill four bound volumes according to the Latin typical edition, spread across a three-year cycle; no-one who attends daily Mass according to the Ordinary Form can pretend ignorance of the Scriptures.

An oddity of the Extraordinary Form is the custom of repeating the proclamation of the Scriptures, first in Latin, and again in the vernacular. Not only does this appear to contradict the norm of "noble simplicity", but shows forth the Roman liturgical faux-pas of duplication and thus disrupts the unity of the Liturgy of the Word, not to mention a strong resistance towards the Second Vatican Council's express wish of having the Scriptures proclaimed in the langauge of the assembly.

Worse, there remains the custom of removing certain vestments for the homily or the sermon, and enclosing the same with a sign of the cross. This gives the impression that the Church's munera docendi is truncated from the munera sanctificandi, and that those who assist at a Traditional Latin Mass "step out" of the liturgy to hear the sermon, and then "resume" Mass at the Creed. The Council expressly teaches that the homily is a liturgical function; it seems only appropriate to retain the dignity of liturgical vesture during the exercise of the Church's ministry of preaching. "The homily is strongly recommended since it forms part of the liturgy itself..." (Sacrosanctum concilium, no. 52). The 1983 Code of Canon Law legislates that "Among the forms of preaching, the homily, which is part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or deacon, is preeminent..." (can. 767.1).

Another problem is to be found in the readings for the Sundays of Lent according to the Extraordinary Form. The Missal of Paul VI restored the older reading of the Lenten gospels; Sacrosanctum concilium 64 ordered the restoration of the catechumenate, which the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent celebrates in a special way in the "Period of Purification and Enlightenment." However, with the cycle of readings still retained by the Extraordinary Form, there is no way of making use of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, since it was designed to synchronize with the readings and propers of the Lenten cycle as celebrated by Rome long before the Missal of 1570 was issued. Not only do we have a dissynchronicity between the Extraordinary Form of Mass and the restored catechumenate, but also a persistent resistance to the Church's mandate that a thorough and liturgically-oriented catechesis for those seeking the Sacraments of Initiation. This, of course, is not the fault of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. But where is the effort to celebrate the same Extraordinary Form in compliance with the Council's order to restore the catechumenate? Here I wish to call attention to the words of then-Cardinal Ratzinger:

The Council did not itself reform the liturgical books, but it ordered their revision, and to this end, it established certain fundamental rules. Before anything else, the Council gave a definition of what liturgy is, and this definition gives a valuable yardstick for every liturgical celebration. Were one to shun these essential rules and put to one side the normae generales which one finds in numbers 34-36 of the Constitution De Sacra Liturgia (SL), in that case one would indeed be guilty of disobedience to the Council! ("Ten Years of the Motu Proprio," 24 October 1998).

"Disobedience to the Council." No-one is at liberty to reform the 1962 Missale Romanum on his own initiative without a mandate from the Holy See. The issue here is, rather, that the conversation being carried regarding the usus antiquior strongly indicates that the Council's order for the reform of the liturgy is being ignored. Where, among the Indult communities such as the FSSP and the Institute of Christ the King have we any discussion among professional liturgists about bringing the 1962 Missale Romanum to the supreme authority of the Church?

It has not been my intention to criticize the Extraordinary Form of Mass. Rather, my intention is to challenge those who insist on retaining the Extraordinary Form and to ask: In what sense is submission given to the Church's supreme authority? An ecumenical council, convoked by Pope +John XXIII and adjourned by Pope +Paul VI, has issued specific teachings on the sacred liturgy and mandated specific reforms. Are we to expect that people who retain the Extraordinary Form of Mass are immune from the Church's supreme authority, ignoring those stipulations outlined in Sacrosanctum concilium? I would hope not.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The S.S.P.X. and Episcopi vagantes

Everybody's got an opinion about the withdrawal of the latae sententiae excommunications of the bishops consecrated by Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of St Pius X. None of these opinions, however, seem to draw attention to the fact that not a single one of these bishops possess a legitimate episcopal chair. This is precisely why, I would submit, the press is wrong when they describe Pope Benedict XVI's lifting the excommunications as "rehabilitation"--the bishops, including especially Richard Williamson, have not been rehabilitated, precisely because of an irregularity in the episcopal consecration that can probably be stabilized only by granting a titular see. Allow me to explain.

The sign of the episcopal rank is not the mitre, crozier, or pectoral cross--even an abbot has the right to wear these insignia. The sign of the episcopal rank, rather, is the ring, which symbolizes the bishops "marriage" to his diocese. Thus a dioceseless bishop is a contradiction in terms. Presumably the bishops of the S.S.P.X.--Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Alfonso de Gallaretta--each have an episcopal ring. But to which dicoese are they married? In other words, which sees are they in possession of?

The other, no less significant, symbol of the episcopal rank is the cathedra, which is actually the physical manifestion of the see, from the Latin sedes, meaning "seat" (and roughly synonymous with "diocese"). We get the word "cathedral" from cathedra, which is the church that houses the bishop's chair, and thus it is the mother-church of the diocese or see. By rights, only the bishop can be seated on his own cathedra, as well as a papal legate or the pope himself. It reflects the bishop in his role as governing the Local Church. In other words, the ring symbolizes the bishop's marriage to the Local Church which he governs from the cathedra. The episcopal ring and the episcopal chair are, therefore, mutually referential.

The Church is serious about the business of episcopal consecrations. An auxiliary bishop is just that, the auxiliary of the ordinary bishop of a diocese (hence "Ordinary"). Not even the auxiliary bishop of New York has the right to sit on the cathedra in St Patrick's Cathedral. Does he, then, have a see? Indeed he does. For a bishop who is consecrated as an auxiliary or, in some cases, a rector of a seminary (such as H.G. +Edwin O'Brien, now Archbishop of Baltimore, who was once the rector of St Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York). In such instances, these bishops are given a titular see or a see by "title" (hence titular; cf. can. 376). So Bishop +Robert Brucato, although he assists the Archbishop of New York as his auxiliary, is in possession of the Diocese of Temuniana. The ring worn by H.E. +Robert Brucato means that he is married to the Diocese of Temuniana, although he actually lives and serves the People of God in the Archdiocese of New York. This way, the Church preserves the true function of the episcopal rank--an authority which is geared towards the service of the local Church.

Back to question of bishops of the Econe Consecrations: None of these bishops have a proper see. They are without a diocese, and the Holy See has never given any indication that it will regularize their illicit consecrations by giving them one.

Marcel Lefebvre, in his limited ecclesiological vision, probably thought of the episcopal rank only in terms of apostolic succession: it is well-known that the Econe Consecrations took place to perpetuate priestly ordinations in the face of what he considered to be an erroneous course taken by the Church after the Second Vatican Council. But he probably also forgot that the bishop's task is not only to sanctify the People of God (hence the possibility of ordaining priests), but also of teaching and of governing (can. 375; Lumen gentium no. 21). Since the episcopal chair or cathedra is a sign of the bishop's task of governing the Local Church or diocese entrusted to him (cf. Ceremonial of Bishops, no. 42), the bishops of the Econe Consecrations emerged with only one, possibly two, legs of the stool remaining. Without a diocese to govern, without the exercise of his jurisdiction that is intrinsically proper to the episcopal rank, we are left with what the Fathers of the Church called an episcopi vagantes, "wandering bishops." If the bishops of the Econe Consecrations do in fact wear an episcopal ring, it is mere formality: they are married to no diocese. They do not govern a Local Church. Their rings are only a testimony to an absent cathedra. The exercise of their episcopal office is irregular and without stability.

It is precisely on these terms that we could--until the remission of their excommunications--understand the S.S.P.X. as schismatic, because between four bishops, the entire lay community under the care of the S.S.P.X. effectively created a parallel church. As such the Econe Consecrations have been nothing less than an ecclesiological fiasco.

Why, then, in the face of such disturbance of the Church's peace, would the Holy Father withdraw their excommunications? The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, states very clearly that "The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful" (no. 23). It is the pope's job, essentially, to ensure the Church's unity and oneness; Pope +Benedict XVI, in remitting the excommunications, is simply being obedient to his vocation as Pastor of the universal Church. It would be wrong, I think, to interpret his decision to remit these excommunications as instances of his reactionary tendencies. (There are no reactionary tendencies to speak of.) Rather, seeing that the penalty of excommunication did not achieve its desired end, namely repentance (cf. 1 Tim 1:20), Pope +Benedict XVI now tries the medicine of mercy, not so much for the benefit of the illicitly-consecrated bishops, but the Catholic faithful who have been mislead by the leadership of the S.S.P.X. It is in this context, too, that I suggest we interpret his decision to issue the motu propio Summorum Pontificum: Yes, indeed, the "hermeneutic of continuity," but also the unity and peace of the Church.