Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Rant, Because It's My Blog - For Crying Out Loud Catholics, Celebrate Halloween!

I'm not sure when this trend started, I remember it beginning at least a decade ago, or perhaps a little before, this apparent aversion Catholics have to Halloween.  I should say the aversion that seems to be present among some circles of Catholics, an almost fundamentalist approach to what is essentially a Catholic holiday.  Instead of the traditional costumes and images of ghouls and goblins, we have to dress children up in saintly costumes, and call the day "All Saints' Eve".  Even though the term "All Hallows' Eve" means precisely the same thing.  I remember during my highschool years, the first "All Saints" party held in my home parish, where ghoulish costumes were verboten, and only saintly attire was permitted.  I also remember one occasion during my university days when I was visiting one of my favourite Christian bookstores on October 31st, and a delivery man had just dropped off a shipment to the young woman working the checkout counter.  As he was about to depart he wished her a "Happy Halloween", and in a very indignant fashion she responded, "I'm Catholic, I don't celebrate Halloween, I celebrate All Saints' Day."  I'm sorry but, give me a break! 

Halloween is as Catholic a day as they come.  It originated in Irish popular piety as a day to recall the reality of Hell.  Thus, Halloween is, say it with me now: SUPPOSED TO BE SCARY.  It is a day to remember the sad fate of the souls of the damned, and that Hell is a real possibility for all of us, unless we strive to enter by the narrow door.  The earliest celebrations of "All Hallows" began in the 300s, but was celebrated in May, on May 13th in fact, the day it is still observed in some Eastern Churches.  It was transferred to November 1st in 844 when Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in St. Peter's Basilica to All Saints.  It has NOTHING TO DO with a druid harvest festival.  There is no agreement among scholars that the pope consciously transferred the feast to "baptize" the pagan festival of Samhain, and the idea that the pope would transfer a feast of the Universal Church for the sake of a small group of pagans at the edge of the world seems to me to be rather far fetched.  The appropriation of Halloween by pagans is a modern innovation, not extending any further back than the late 19th century. 

It is quite true that the celebration of Halloween has become as much secularized as many other Christian feasts, Christmas being chief among them, and so dressing up children in secular costumes like Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga, frightening as that may be, is not the true intention of Halloween either.  But to dress children up as saints for this day also misses the entire point of this particular observance.  We honour the saints tomorrow on November 1st, we remember the souls in Purgatory the following day on November 2nd, but this day, October 31st is to remind us that there is a third possibility for us after we die, one we should avoid at all costs.  

I'm going to step out on a limb here, I hope you'll join me, I'm going to suggest that ignoring the true heritage of Halloween plays right into the Modernist ideals that have infected the Church over the past decades.  Today we only talk about heaven, a great many Catholics don't even have a concept of Purgatory or the need to pray for the dead any more.  The generally accepted idea is that when we die, we all go up to heaven, no stops along the way, and you really don't even need to be that holy, as long as you're a good enough person, it's a free pass right upstairs.  This is totally at odds with Sacred Tradition and the teaching of Our Lord in Sacred Scripture.  Nonetheless, good Catholics seem to be playing right along, and ignoring the teachings of our Church on the Last Things.  Halloween is not about the saints, that is for tomorrow, today is a day to remind ourselves, and catechize our children, that Hell is a reality, and it is something we need to strive to avoid by living lives that are truly Holy!

Further reading:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Year of Faith Begins

Today inaugurates the Year of Faith called for by Pope Benedict.  It also marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962.  It's often said that the Church works in centuries, so we just have 50 more years to go until the Council is properly understood and properly implemented, right?  Perhaps.  Of course at this point in the Church there still rages the debates of the proper interpretation of the Council, with those on one side arguing for the "spirit" of the Council to be held in higher regard than the actual words of the documents.  On the other we have those who would even doubt the validity of the Council.  The truth as it always is, is of course somewhere in the middle.  Unless one has one's head in the sand, it's not hard to see that the process of change and growth in understanding of the Council is still ongoing.  Many younger clergy, religious, and laity are studying the documents thoroughly, through the lense of "continuity" as our Holy Father has called for, and working for a balanced understanding of the Council; working to correct many of the extreme responses (on both sides) that have taken place over the last 50 years (though I must acknowledge, the majority of the extreme responses do seem to have been to one direction over the other).  We pray that this ongoing process of renewal continues, under the inspiration and prayers of Blessed Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict.

As depicted above, the CCCB has issued a pastoral letter marking this auspicious occasion entitled, The Second Vatican Council: What was it and why is it important today?  The article on the document can be found here, and the document itself can be found here.  I'd like to offer some of my thoughts on this pastoral letter.  First of all, my kudos to the authors of the document for many of the fine points it makes, especially with regard to the proper interpretation of the Council:

"We see good fruit, however, where the Council is understood properly. This has been strongly emphasized by Pope Benedict XVI, who has pointed out that Vatican II, rather than being an event of 'discontinuity and rupture' with the Church before the Council, is to be viewed in continuity with the Church before it. It was not a break, but an act of reform. For this reason, we do not reject what came before the Council as being outdated, nor do we consider all that came after as inconsistent with the Church’s Tradition.  Moreover, we cannot appeal to the 'spirit' of the Council as if this were opposed to the 'letter' of the Council’s documents. The Church that existed before Vatican II is the same Church we belong to today. Yet it is also true that things did change after the Council."
"Rather than making the Church worldly or 'modern,' the Council’s job was something else entirely: it was 'to overcome erroneous or superfluous contradictions in order to present to our world the requirement of the Gospel in its full greatness  and purity.'"
The letter describes what a Council is, and a bit of the background to why Blessed Pope John XXIII called the Council in the first place.  My critique of this letter comes though in what is has to say, or doesn't say about the four Constitutions of the Council.  The paragraph on the Liturgy, I think, sadly misses the mark.  It does speak about some concerns with the liturgy before the Council, such as a lack of understanding of Latin by the laity (which is easily resolved through the use of a bilingual hand missal), and the hurried celebration by many priests (a genuine problem, but not the worst liturgical abuse out there, especially considering what came after the Council).  As always it emphasizes the "full, conscious, and active participation" of the laity, but fails to explain that this paragraph is to be interpreted primarily as interior participation, not exterior.  This paragraph also extols the near universal use of the vernacular, something not called for in Sacrosanctum Concilium.  Finally the paragraph seems to point out that the liturgy is a constantly changing thing, perhaps to justify the liturgical changes since the Council.  It fails to note however, that for 1500 years any structural changes to the liturgy were relatively minor, and the wholesale recreation of the liturgy following the Council is not called for in any of the documents.

As for images of the Church, triumphalism is bad, but I'd take a little triumphalism over the mistaken notion that so many Catholics have today, that the Catholic faith is just one among many.  With respect to the Universal Call to Holiness, it is true that some before the Council didn't understand this notion, but this idea did not begin with Vatican II, it is present in the preaching of saints down through the centuries even into the 20th century itself (it's a central feature of the preaching of St. Josemaria Escriva for one).  As for the paragraph on Salvation, again it seems to imply that the understanding that non-Christian religions have some value for evangelization was a brand new idea at Vatican II.  Someone might want to tell that to those who evangelized Asia and used their native religions and the truths found therein as their starting point.

There is much more that I could critique, but this article is getting too long already.  Once again I'd like to offer grateful thanks for the emphasis on the fact that we must understand the Second Vatican Council in light of the 1900 years that went before it.  Sadly though, the first part of the document seems largely to follow the theme that the Church began in 1962 with all of these new ideas, and so seems to contridict the latter half.  On the whole, worth a read as we begin this year of faith, but it should be an invitation to read the documents themselves and see what the Council really had to say.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Bountious Bevy of Backlogged Blogposts

Greetings one and all, I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging over the summer, and it lasted a little longer than I thought, I have a number of homilies that will be uploaded in a short while, in the meantime, for those who like to rack up as many indulgences as they can get, you will have plenty of opportunities over this coming year:


Vatican City, 5 October 2012 (VIS) - According to a decree made public today and signed by Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro and Bishop Krzysztof Nykiel, respectively penitentiary major and regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Benedict XVI will grant faithful Plenary Indulgence for the occasion of the Year of Faith. The indulgence will be valid from the opening of the Year on 11 October 2012 until its end on 24 November 2013.

"The day of the fiftieth anniversary of the solemn opening of Vatican Council II", the text reads, "the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI has decreed the beginning of a Year especially dedicated to the profession of the true faith and its correct interpretation, through the reading of - or better still the pious meditation upon - the Acts of the Council and the articles of the Catechism of the Catholic Church".

"Since the primary objective is to develop sanctity of life to the highest degree possible on this earth, and thus to attain the most sublime level of pureness of soul, immense benefit may be derived from the great gift of Indulgences which, by virtue of the power conferred upon her by Christ, the Church offers to everyone who, following the due norms, undertakes the special prescripts to obtain them".

"During the Year of Faith, which will last from 11 October 2012 to 24 November 2013, Plenary Indulgence for the temporal punishment of sins, imparted by the mercy of God and applicable also to the souls of deceased faithful, may be obtained by all faithful who, truly penitent, take Sacramental Confession and the Eucharist and pray in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.

"(A) Each time they attend at least three sermons during the Holy Missions, or at least three lessons on the Acts of the Council or the articles of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in church or any other suitable location.

"(B) Each time they visit, in the course of a pilgrimage, a papal basilica, a Christian catacomb, a cathedral church or a holy site designated by the local ordinary for the Year of Faith (for example, minor basilicas and shrines dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Apostles or patron saints), and there participate in a sacred celebration, or at least remain for a congruous period of time in prayer and pious meditation, concluding with the recitation of the Our Father, the Profession of Faith in any legitimate form, and invocations to the Blessed Virgin Mary and, depending on the circumstances, to the Holy Apostles and patron saints.

"(C) Each time that, on the days designated by the local ordinary for the Year of Faith, ... in any sacred place, they participate in a solemn celebration of the Eucharist or the Liturgy of the Hours, adding thereto the Profession of Faith in any legitimate form.

"(D) On any day they chose, during the Year of Faith, if they make a pious visit to the baptistery, or other place in which they received the Sacrament of Baptism, and there renew their baptismal promises in any legitimate form.

"Diocesan or eparchal bishops, and those who enjoy the same status in law, on the most appropriate day during that period or on the occasion of the main celebrations, ... may impart the papal blessing with the Plenary Indulgence".

The document concludes by recalling how faithful who, due to illness or other legitimate cause, are unable to leave their place of adobe, may still obtain Plenary Indulgence "if, united in spirit and thought with other faithful, and especially at the times when the words of the Supreme Pontiff and diocesan bishops are transmitted by television or radio, they recite ... the Our Father, the Profession of Faith in any legitimate form, and other prayers that concord with the objectives of the Year of Faith, offering up the suffering and discomfort of their lives".

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pastoral Letter on Freedom of Conscience and Religion

Yesterday the Canadian Bishops issued their new Pastoral Letter on Freedom of Conscience and Religion.  It makes a number of charitable but forceful points about the need for the free exercise of religion, in both the private and public spheres, and even gives a fervorino at the end about the need for bold courage in the face of persecution.  Some excerpts:
"Recent international and national events present a disturbing trend of threats to freedom of conscience and religion  experienced by those who suffer from bias, prejudice, hate propaganda, discrimination and persecution because of their  religious beliefs."
"Conscience is not, however, an absolute placed above truth. Rather, by its very nature, conscience has a relation to objective truth, a truth which is universal and which all must seek."

"Believers must therefore be allowed to play their part in formulating public policy and in contributing to society as a way of living their faith in daily practice. When this right is truly acknowledged, religious communities and institutions can operate freely for the betterment of society through initiatives in the social, charitable, health care, and educational sectors, which benefit all citizens, especially the poorest and most marginalized."

"In the past decade in Canada there have been several situations that raise the question whether our right to freedom of conscience and religion is everywhere respected."

"We all need to be vigilant in preserving, in a respectful manner, the religious symbols and  celebrations which express the particular spiritual heritage of nations shaped in the crucible of Christianity. Forcing religious believers to keep their convictions to themselves, while
atheists and agnostics are under no such restriction is, in fact, an expression of religious intolerance."

"Those who refuse to cooperate with an unjust law or practice that would oblige them to act against their conscience – and are not given the right to conscientious objection or accorded respectful accommodation – must be prepared to suffer the consequences that result from fidelity to Christ."

Read the rest there.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Lord's descent into hell

 "What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son.
The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: 'My Lord be with you all.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.
‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.
‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.
'See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.
`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.
"The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages."

A reading from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday