Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I might have mentioned it before, but there was a time when I used or at least tested every new trend in Internet software out there. I was an early adopter of what would eventually become AOL. I used Internet Relay Chat long before AIM became fashionable. I download new programs by FTP before GNU was a bastion of free, quality software, and BitTorrent allowed huge files to be quickly downloaded.
This might actually be a trend that is related to the fact that I'm old as dirt. I can remember a time when I had read every Science Fiction book in the stacks of the Chicago Public Library, which was effectively every Sci-Fi book which had been published in English up to that time. The number was not really that large. Likewise there was a time when I at least tested out every Role Playing Game, and a good percentage of the commercially produced wargames on the market.
Those times are long past. The Science fiction section of Barnes and Noble has more selections than I would ever have time to read. While Role Playing Games are in a decline, with only one or two companies still making enough to exclusively publish them as a full time business, there are still dozens of hobby companies who turn out hundreds of games a year which are available via the Internet, if not from stores locally.
As for Internet technology. I don't have the time to investigate trends like Second Life, World of Warcraft or Facebook, each of which could take months of use to actually get proficient with.
In some ways it might seem that the Christian is in a similar boat. We have two thousand years of supporting documentation for the twin pillars of Scripture and Tradition. Everything from St. Clement of Alexandria to Benedict XVI is available to us. How can anyone possibly expect to read what has been written?
Well you can't. Does that mean we should sit back and leave it to the theologians? Not hardly. To start with we should realize that striving for a greater appreciation of our faith, through the reading and study of the great teachers of Christendom, The Fathers of the Church, the Doctors of the Church, the writings of the Saints, and even the works of present scholars, is the work of a lifetime. We will never be able to read them all, but we should read what we can.
Start with the Church Fathers. Much of what we believe was defended and explained by them. Not all were Saints, and a few were even heretical at some portion of their lives. The combined wisdom of these men are the basis upon which much of the scholarship of the succeeding generations were built.
Certainly the Doctors of the Church should also be included in your reading list. As given by Wikipedia: "The Doctors' works vary greatly in subject and form." Some were mystics, others systematic theologians, some defenders against heresy, others illuminators of doctrine.
The easiest way to actually accomplish this study is not to go it alone. Reading Aquinas as a book club selection seems much more useful to me than spending time on a sleazy bestseller. Many of these volumes have study guides available to assist a group in reading them.
So gather together a group of like minded friends and set out to explore the foundations of our faith. Just remember there's always more to explore and you'll never see it all this side of the vale.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Get on out there

The Holy Father's vicar for the Diocese of Rome has express the hope that religious, especially young priests, brothers and nuns will use the tools of the information age, blogging in particular to reach young people.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Stem cell research

Another nail in the coffin of fetal stem cell research, Doctors at the University of Manchester have transformed adult animal stem cells from fat tissue into nerve cells in the laboratory. They are now working with living human patients to test the process on human cells. Get the story.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Golden Compass

If you've been to the movies lately it's possible that you've seen the previews for New Line Cinema's December 7, 2007 release of The Golden Compass, which is based on Phillip Pullman's Carnegie Medal winning book Northern Lights.
What you may have seen if you follow the entries at St. Blog is the controversy being generated by the sale of what is an obvious anti-Christian/anti-Catholic movie to our children. As more than one person has pointed out, how many clueless parents who have never heard of Phillip Pullman, a supporter of the British Humanist Association and an Associate of the National Secular Society, will take their children to see the movie, and not seeing the subtle anti-Christian message in the movie, will procure for their children the His Dark Materials trilogy, with its blatant anti-Church message?
The third book of the trilogy depicts the afterlife as a Hell for all the dead, who at best can look forward to a eastern religion like "oneness of/with the universe" as the best fate possible. Pullman, through his characters, calls the establishment of the Church a mistake and the Christian view of the afterlife a lie. One of the main characters in the later books is Mary Malone, an ex-nun turned atheist, whose job is to be the second serpent, corrupting the new Adam and Eve, Pullman's main characters Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, except in Pullman's universe this is a good thing.
One of the few Christian leaders who seem to have no problem with Pullman is the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury , who has suggested His Dark Materials be used in religious education. Consider the source.
I would recommend that any parent who thinks there are reasons to have their children read these books read them first. If you feel your children are mature enough in their faith to allow them to read this book then be prepared to discuss it with them. In any case I would never recommend that young children be exposed to this kind of indoctrination. So if your children are old enough to drive themselves to The Golden Compass they are probably old enough to understand that this movie is nothing more than secularist propaganda. If they are not old enough to drive themselves they should probably skip this movie until they are older.
In the long run it is probably better to skip this movie all together, whatever the age of your children. Why should we want to reward New Line Cinema for making this kind of movie?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cleaning the dishes.

Most are aware that in the United States there was at one time an indult that allowed Extraordinary Ministers of Communion to assist the priest in the purification of the sacred vessels. This indult ran out several years ago and in most parishes (as is required) this practice ceased.
The Holy See's reason for allowing this Indult to expire is that the purification of the vessels is by right a function of the clergy and therefore is relegated to the priest, deacon (or in places that have them) an instituted acolyte. It is not required that this be done during Mass. It is perfectly acceptable that the vessels be purified after Mass in the sacristy.
The reason I'm bring this up is that I attended a conference recently where the revocation of the Indult and enforcement of the standing practice was referred to as the action of "isolated bureaucrats in Rome who are out of touch with the real world because there is a priest behind every pillar in Rome." The idea being that all Masses in Rome are concelebrations with lots of priest present to do the purification of the vessels. The lack of theological understanding in the statement is staggering.
Even more recently I was discussing the habits of a particular visiting priest who both broke the host during the consecration and turned over the purification of the vessels to the EMCs. He was from outside the U.S. so I don't know if these are norms in his country of origin or just bad practices on his part. But in the discussion one of the other participants stated, "Yeah he let us do the dishes, that's how it should be anyway, after all we're priests too"
As in the above statement the complete lack of theological basis for such a statement is fairly staggering. The sacred vessels which hold the Blood of the Savior referred to as equivalent to dinnerware and the act of purification, based in the priestly office, relegated to starting the dishwasher shows a lack of real appreciation of what is happening at the alter.
As is required by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:
All, therefore, whether they are ordained ministers or lay Christian faithful, in fulfilling their office or their duty should carry out solely but completely that which pertains to them.
This is pretty clear. Purification of the Vessels is a duty of the ordained ministers. It is a abuse for a member of the lay Christian faithful to carry out that duty.

As it says in Redemptionis Sacramentum:
The Priest, once he has returned to the altar after the distribution of Communion, standing at the altar or at the credence table, purifies the paten or ciborium over the chalice, then purifies the chalice in accordance with the prescriptions of the Missal and wipes the chalice with the purificator. Where a Deacon is present, he returns with the Priest to the altar and purifies the vessels. It is permissible, however, especially if there are several vessels to be purified, to leave them, covered as may be appropriate, on a corporal on the altar or on the credence table, and for them to be purified by the Priest or Deacon immediately after Mass once the people have been dismissed. Moreover a duly instituted acolyte assists the Priest or Deacon in purifying and arranging the sacred vessels either at the altar or the credence table. In the absence of a Deacon, a duly instituted acolyte carries the sacred vessels to the credence table and there purifies, wipes and arranges them in the usual way.
The source for this is the Roman Missal:

163. Upon returning to the altar, the priest collects any fragments that may remain. Then, standing at the altar or at the credence table, he purifies the paten or ciborium over the chalice then purifies the chalice, saying quietly, Quod ore sumpsimus (Lord, may I receive), and dries the chalice with a purificator. If the vessels are purified at the altar, they are carried to the credence table by a minister. Nevertheless, it is also permitted, especially if there are several vessels to be purified, to leave them suitably covered on a corporal, either at the altar or at the credence table, and to purify them immediately after Mass following the dismissal of the people.

193. When the distribution of Communion is completed, the deacon returns to the altar with the priest and collects the fragments, if any remain, and then carries the chalice and other sacred vessels to the credence table, where he purifies them and arranges them in the usual way while the priest returns to the chair. It is also permissible to leave the vessels that need to be purified, suitably covered, at the credence table on a corporal and to purify them immediately after Mass following the dismissal of the people.

192. Likewise, when the distribution of Communion is completed, a duly instituted acolyte helps the priest or deacon to purify and arrange the sacred vessels. When no deacon is present, a duly instituted acolyte carries the sacred vessels to the credence table and there purifies, wipes, and arranges them in the usual way.
The requirements are extremely clear. They were set when the Ordinary form of the Rite was established and are not the result of some recent bureaucratic decision. Anyone who supposes that is misinformed of the facts.

Would you like some syrup with that waffel?

I was at a catechetical function recently at which a teen asked a question. The question had nothing to do with the lesson and was not some deep theological inquiry. The question itself is unimportant, what is important was that another adult catechist chose to answer the question with the usually unsatisfying "only God knows'" answer.
It's true that there are some mysteries that have not been revealed to us, and so are only known to God. This particular question did not concern one of these cases. As a matter of fact Church teaching on this matter is clearly stated in the CCC. It was not a case of grave matter, so probably no great lasting harm was done. However it was quite obvious that the other person was either unfamiliar with the answer or simply unwilling to tell the teen, perhaps because they saw going down that road as counterproductive to the lesson that was suppose to be covered.
This method of dealing with this kind of issue is generally unsatisfactory for a number of pedagogical and catechetical reasons. First it was poor classroom practice. If the catechist did not know the answer or the Church's stand on the subject then he should have informed the teen that he would get back to her with the answer. If he felt that the discussion would hijack the intended lesson then it would have been far better to tell the teen that he would be glad to discuss it after the meeting. Second it did not fulfill the catechist's responsibility to represent the Church. Though not a matter of grave sin the teen was now misinformed. The Church has a teaching on this subject which the teen and indeed the whole class now believes is open for debate, because if only "God knows for sure" then my opinion on the matter is just as valid as yours.
There is a third option for the catechist's vague answer, and that is perhaps he thought the teen would not like the Church's position. This, unfortunately, was allowed to distort catechetical teaching for many years. Catechist did not talk about the Church's stand on truly grave issues because they feared teens or their parents would react in a negative way to those teachings. This has been true of abortion, remarriage, chastity, and contraception.
I give the catechist the benefit of the doubt, while still pointing out the ultimate problem with this kind of response.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Accidents and Substance

Just returned form a wonderful XLT. XLT, for those who don't know, is an adoration centered praise and worship event. Like all adorations it typically includes the divine praises and the Tantum ergo, in either Latin or English (or sometimes in both.)
It also includes the kind of modern worship music some people find is not their preference. Good enough. We also have silent adoration for the entire day before XLT. Of course it isn't an either or kind of thing and many people spend time at both.
Now some modern Catholics believe that adoration is something of the middle ages, even that the Real Presence is either not a holy truth or an unimportant one.
At a recent liturgy conference the speaker asked: Where is Christ in the Mass? In the people someone said. In the priest, who acts In persona Christi, especially during the Eucharistic prayer, said another. He is in the Word of the Gospel, said a third. He is at Calvary, said another, realizing that in the Holy Mystery the sacrifice on the alter and that on the cross are the same. He is in the Body and Blood, said someone finally.
Now all of those are true. Christ promised us that where ever three or more are gathered in his name He would be. Certainly as the Word come down from Heaven he is in the Gospel. The hands of the priest are the hands of God. All good answers.
But in the Eucharist Christ is present in a way that transcends his presence in those other ways. He is not just present in spirit, as the omnipresent God who is present everywhere. He is present in the flesh, as he was with the Apostles. That is why we use the term Real Presence. No long is the substance of the bread and wine the 'fruit of the Earth and the work of human hands" but rather the "body which will be given up for you" and the "the blood of the new and everlasting covenant." The substance no longer matches the accidents we see as bread and wine.
In the Eucharist Christ's presence is different than it is in our neighbor, or even in Scripture.
I have attended many Ecumenical Christian praise and worship services. I am a Charismatic Catholic Christian by temperament and often listen to the same songs which one might hear at Christian concert. But, no matter how joyful and spiritual the music, no merely Christian praise and worship service will ever compare to a Eucharistic Adoration, because no matter how much Christ might be present in spirit, He is not present in the way that He is in the Real Presence of the Host.
So no matter how wonderful and important it is that Christ is present in the people attending Mass, in the priest, through whom God invokes the sacred mystery, or in the Word, proclaimed to all those present, none of these ways are equivalent to Christ's presence in the Eucharist.