For al least the next two weeks I am directing all posting to the Sunday Stream to discuss the recent Pennsylvania report on clerical child abuse, including its implications for catechetics and Church/parish life. You can jump over to Sunday's stream by clicking here.
I was not happy with the limited posting I was able to do in June, and I feel like I left a lot of you hanging. One reason for the limited posts is several changes in my circumstances. Back in May I opened a free mental health service in the local Catholic Church here in my town. It is open Fridays all day, and in less than a month the available time slots were full. I am enjoying it very much, but I cannot do anything else on Friday, which eliminates another day I can devote to the Café. I continue to work Mondays at the Catholic Charities Clinic in Eustis, Florida; in fact, I will be driving over in an hour or two.
A second issue is the increasing demand for more reading prior to posting. There are several streams going at the same time which call for more research. Certainly, the Thursday stream on Luther and the Reformation is one; the nature of evil in the Monday Morality stream is another. This year I began commenting on the First Readings on the Sunday Mass, which meant a return to Old Testament studies, a discipline which is not one of my greatest strengths. When I started the Café four years ago, one of my goals was to introduce busy professionals to the best of new religious, catechetical, and theological works. This assumes reading the books first!
A third issue is retirement itself. Having turned 70 this year, I am finding that increasingly friends and family need contact and attention. Again, I am very pleased to become more involved in their lives, but this too devours the hours of the day. On the other hand, all the medical advice for seniors speaks of exercise and interpersonal interactions as means of maintaining a sound mind and a good spirit. This is a time of life to cultivate and enrich the relationships I already have, and perhaps engage in new ones. I know a fair amount of people who have outlived their friends and face their final years in an undesired solitude.
And, I am beginning to feel older. While I continue to be blessed with good health, I am no longer the young buck who could read till 2 AM. If I stay up that late, I will feel it the next day, like a hangover. When I was on retreat with the Trappists two weeks ago, I talked about all of this with a wise monk who reminded me that the senior population brings an example of transition and serenity, and he gently challenged me to stop running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
I have no intention of discontinuing the Café, because aside from the pressures of brewing up new flavors frequently, it is one of the more pleasurable enterprises in my life. Realistically it is probably best to say that the weekly grind of each stream will be tapered back to two weeks instead of weekly. On days when I am on the road, like family reunions, I may post with more spontaneity and less pedantic. Old bloggers don’t die, they just reign it in a bit.
I was unable to meet the Good Friday publication deadline, but I hope and trust that you were all able to observe the day in a way that brought blessings. I attended Good Friday services today in the church where I began my priestly work in Florida about 40 years ago. It was very much like coming home again.
The Poisons We Pick is a thoughtful essay on the roots of the opioid crisis in the United States. The Church must bring its collective wisdom to the public debate, but as the author correctly observes, few of us understand the sensation of addiction, which is different for each substance, the history of substance abuse, the cultural forces which nurture abuse, and the recent loss of social and religious supports which sustained large segments of the population in our past.
Looking back over the recent history of Friday posts, I see that there haven't been any. As I am taking a little break from posting in general, the next Friday post will be August 18. Or maybe not. Tough day to write, I guess.
The best adjectives to describe this work are basic ones: thoughtful, logical, systematic, detached—the kind of qualities one looks for in a serious study, and particularly in a treatment of Vatican II. The Council (1962-1965) has been acclaimed and derided, quite intensely, in the five decades in the United States. I dislike using the pedestrian term “useful” to describe fine literature, but John W. O’Malley’s 300-page overview of the Council is the kind of work one buys in hardcover, because it will enjoy a long shelf life. It will be the quintessential one-volume history of the Council for catechetics, adult education, the college classroom, and the general adult Catholic readership.
What strikes me about O’Malley in his narration and conclusions is his ability to make sound judgments without lapsing into judgmental excesses. Many commentators have found this balance hard to achieve in their own writings on the Council. The old assessment of Vatican II as progressive European theologians staving off a Machiavellian Roman Curia still lingers, particularly on Catholic blog sites. O’Malley does not run away from “prelates behaving badly,” but he provides an insightful overview of how those passions developed. Chapter 2, “The Long Nineteenth Century,” is an intriguing and balanced account of Church and society in the formation of Vatican II; the author dates this century as extending from the French Revolution (1789) to the eve of Vatican II.
The “nineteenth century” was the coming to full bloom of secular modernity; for the Church, there was no hope of turning back the clock to a time before nationalism, democracy, science, and separation of Church and State, the end, as O’Malley phrases it, of the “old marriage of throne and altar.” (p. 54) Given that the modern era posed physical as well as philosophical threats to geographic Rome--Risorgimento and the end of the papal states, for example--an embattled central church used the tools at its command: a fierce adherence to its past and a resistance to the present. The defensive posture of the Roman Church maintained itself through the election of Pope John XXIII.
O’Malley captures the scope of the Council in terms of size and cost with some wonderment that such an event as Vatican II could have taken place at all. The author does not idolize Pope John; he recognizes that the pope—a keen observer of twentieth century horrors—came to the Throne of Peter with a conviction that the times called for a new conversation between the Church and the world. Pope John could model what he hoped for in his messages and encyclicals, but O’Malley comments on the unwieldly machinery collected for the drafting of documents and floor management. Visionary as he was, John XXIII fielded an old guard administration.
The efforts of the Curia to engineer a brief Council in the mode and format of Vatican I are well known. But O’Malley explains the Curial mind without malice at numerous points in the narrative. If I may jump ahead to a telling episode on the debate over Revelation, “Dei Verbum,” in October 1965 the floor debate virtually ground to a halt over the language on the relationship of Scripture and Tradition. While a strong majority of the Council fathers endorsed a greater role for the Bible in Church life, the Curia lobbied Pope Paul VI to maintain a definition of Tradition as equal to Scripture. For Cardinal Siri, among others, any hint of diminution of Tradition as an equal revelation source would undermine doctrines of the Virgin Mary, notably the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, neither of which enjoyed a strong Biblical foundation. (p. 278)
O’Malley’s narrative incorporates three impulses driving the majority of Council fathers and their theological advisors: Aggiornamento, Ressourcement, and Development of Doctrine. “Aggiornamento” is a term often applied to Pope John’s “throwing open the windows.” In his addresses, John used the term favorably as a need to openness and change in the face of new challenges throughout the world. Aggiornamento was a mood; Ressourcement, on the other hand, was a technical theological term for a contemporary review of the primitive or early practices of the Church. “Perfectae Caritatis,” for example, challenges religious orders to return to the principles of their founders. “Development” too was a theological principle of exploration into existing teachings to consider new applications. A notable example is John Courtney Murray’s contribution to the Council’s “Declaration on Religious Liberty.”
O’Malley manages to produce a consistent chronology of the floor proceedings despite considerable odds. Among them was uncertainty over just how long the Council would last. That Vatican II extended over four years came as a gradual surprise and point of concern for bishops—and certainly to the Curia, which had hoped for a one-session conclave of several weeks. Once the original plan for the Council was scuttled, its proceedings were managed by Curial moderators in a fashion of haphazardness, an unevenness of clock management, and a maddeningly disjointed daily agenda of serious debate interrupted frequently by calls to vote on schemas or portions of schemas on entirely different subjects. Hardly a Roberts Rules convocation.
As a result, many bishops from the “third world” and the Eastern rite churches received precious little attention to their pressing concerns by Council’s end. Moreover, some documents were written hastily (on “Social Communications,” for example) so that precious time could be allotted to major doctrinal and pastoral concerns. The author speaks positively of the bishops themselves—their openness to Pope John’s vision, their own theological acumen or their selection of competent advisors, and their willingness to tackle controversial questions from the start: the “Sacred Constitution on the Liturgy” was the first document promulgated.
In his final chapter, “Conclusion,” O’Malley does offer a telling assessment of perhaps the biggest error of the bishops, particular Western bishops: “They assumed an easier transition from ideas of the scholars’ study to the social reality of the church than proved to be the case.” (p. 292) Hence the turmoil when the bishops returned home.
John W. O'Malley, What Happened at Vatican II? (2010)
No Friday wisdom from the Brew Master today. But a reader forwarded me a recent editorial from America Magazine, "Religious Education is Broken; It's Time To Fix Our Sunday School Culture." My thanks to the contributor. If you read the link, take some time to check out the written responses from other readers, many of which offer thoughtful follow-up.
My posts this week have been late or non-existent. I have been involved in a week of landscaping projects in which I have drunk more Propel than coffee.
I will be away tomorrow (Saturday) presenting a workshop on sacramental theology for catechists and Catholic school teachers in Orlando; today I will be tied up with preparation, updating the links, bibliography, etc.
However, I do have a link to a new study just completed by CARA, Women and Men Entering Religious Life: The Entrance Class of 2016. This is a fascinating and detailed look at those who entered religious life--religious sisters and brothers--in 2016. I am a bit of a nut on hard data and research as opposed to impressions and opinions, so I find these kinds of study very helpful to the ministry. Among other things, this study gives an indication of the kinds of parish and institutional ministries impact individuals to the point of dedicating their entire lives to prayer, community and ministry. Much of this data on local church life is transferable to all parish, educational, and institutional settings in the Church.
A well-written study animates thought and impacts attitude. If you open the link, don't overlook the "raw" responses of participants, pages 59-117. This kind of window on religious life does not come along very often.
My prayers are with all of you today on this observance of the Passion and Death of the Lord. The solemn commemoration of Good Friday in the Roman Missal can begin anytime from noon throughout the day and into the evening, depending on parish option. The rite includes personal veneration of the cross. Margaret and I will be attending our parish’s 3 PM observance. The collection today is for the churches in the Holy Land, a region of the world that is worthy of our prayers and attention.
The Good Friday Rite is not a Eucharistic celebration. There is no consecration; the Eucharistic bread distributed today was consecrated at last night’s Mass of Holy Thursday. In my youth, the Good Friday service (a morning event until Pius XII’s reforms of 1954) was often called “The Mass of the Presanctified [Hosts],” though no Mass was offered on Good Friday. In my household, and probably many others, the hours between noon and 3 PM were observed in silence, which meant specifically that the black and white TV and transistor radios were silenced.
Today’s Good Friday rite has very ancient roots. The veneration of the cross and “The Greater Intercessions,” [now called The General Intercessions] go back many centuries. These Good Friday Intercessions were the cause of some controversy; as late as the 1950’s the English translation of one intercessory prayer from the rite read thus: “Almighty and everlasting God, who drivest not away from Thy mercy even the perfidious Jews: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people: that acknowledging the light of Thy truth, which is Christ, they may be rescued from their darkness.” Compare this text with the Intercession for the Jews in today’s reformed rite.
When Pope Pius XII reformed the Holy Week rites, he introduced the distribution of the Eucharist to all the faithful on Good Friday. Prior to 1954, only the priest received communion on Good Friday. I discovered this week that in many Catholic rites the faithful “fast” from the Eucharist on Good Friday, as do their priests, in celebrating their specific rituals. I also discovered that the reception of the Eucharist by all the faithful at the Good Friday Roman rite is a major issue for the “neo-trads,” those laboring away to “restore” the Roman rite to some distant baroque utopia in the past.
The point seems to be the appropriateness of receiving communion on the memorial day of Christ’s death. I can understand a kind of piety for which this might be an issue, and as I noted, other rites in communion with Rome do in fact observe a Good Friday Eucharistic fast. Pope Benedict, in an interview some years before his election, suggested “a Eucharistic fast.” However, there are a number of good reasons for receiving the Eucharist, too. Not least of which is the fact that Good Friday is the day when salvation was won for us, and the Eucharistic bread is the sharing of the life won on the cross. John’s Passion narrative seems to make this point, as I will note below.
The Scripture readings for Good Friday are of long precedent for this observance. The first reading is the famous Suffering Servant Song of Isaiah chapters 52 and 53. There are indications in the Gospels that Jesus was very familiar with Isaiah, to the point of identifying his ministry with texts from Isaiah. Logic would suggest that Jesus, a devout Jew, would have drawn from Isaiah the template of a redemptive death. The first reading is probably as close as we will ever come to knowing the prayer springing from the heart of Christ during his Passion.
The second reading comes from the Letter to the Hebrews, one of the most important books of the New Testament that nobody reads. One of its neglected insights is its description of Christ’s death: In the days when Christ was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” The four Gospels do not relate a pattern of “loud cries and tears” to the Father; Hebrews may be the closest to an actual description of Jesus’ emotions during his torments.
John’s Gospel holds a place of eminence in the Triduum, and it is John’s Passion narrative that is proclaimed today. If the Letter to the Hebrews gives us a glimpse of Jesus in his humanity, John’s Gospel portrays the human Jesus in his divinity. In listening to or reading John’s Passion, note that the Jesus portrayed here is fully human and fully divine, a point John stresses throughout his Gospel. In the Good Friday reading Jesus is fully in command of events despite his dire predicament. His intervention with Pilate is a prime example. Unlike the other Gospels, which portray meteorological gloom and darkness, John records that on Good Friday the sun—the sign of divine revelation in John’s writing—is shining high in the sky throughout.
A great many things are rendered in the last moments of Jesus’ life as narrated by John. Jesus sees his mother and the unnamed “disciple whom he loved” at the foot of the cross, and in uniting them in family terms, he has in fact established a family or community of his believers. As he hung upon the cross, Jesus requests wine and drinks it, a sign that the time to drink wine has begun in his Father’s kingdom. Salvation has been won in perfect obedience. Look at this text closely: When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, "It is finished." And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.
In John’s theology, the instant of Christ’s death coincides with the Pentecost event, the giving of his Holy Spirit. John elaborates “…but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth,
so that you also may come to believe.” The soldier’s lancing is not recorded anywhere else; the seeming mutilation of a corpse results in a torrent of water and blood that splashed upon his new family still standing at the foot of the cross. Church commentators from earliest times have understood the water and wine as symbols of Baptism and Eucharist, the initiation sacraments into God’s kingdom. In John 2 the evangelist records that the wedding feast miracle of water into wine is the first of Jesus’ signs; his death and outpouring of water and blood is his last.
It is noteworthy, too, that soon two clandestine followers of Jesus come in from the dark of disbelief to bask in sunlight. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus have seen the light. By the sunset of Good Friday, the Church is already growing by the grace won on the cross. There is no reason to refrain from stepping forward to receive the bread of salvation in today’s worship. The invitation has been given from the cross of the Savior.
For Folks Who Can't Read Everything
Book Club: The Interesting Books You Haven't Had Time To Read
To stay current, shop judiciously, and spread your education dollar.