Yet again the pope has captured the headlines of the mainstream secular press, both in the UK and the USA, as elsewhere. The coverage is generally laudatory, with +Francis presented as courageously facing sacred cows that have had their day, or never should have had a day at all. The issue this time, as you know, is the Lord’s Prayer. Pope Francis feels that “lead us not into temptation” is “not a good translation”. A father does not “push” his child into temptation, but only Satan leads into temptation, and we can fall or not. Well, that’s his case in a nutshell.

Others, Christopher Altieri for example, are addressing this more comprehensively than I can. Some are more shrill than others. The points they raise are salient in the main.

There are just two things I would dare to note.

The first is that, Continue reading “Paternostergate”

Maundy Thursday: The Washing of Feet, Priesthood & an Ecumenical Imperative

Over at Fr Hunwicke’s Mutual Enrichment, the good Father gives us a salutary refresher course in the real meaning of the washing of feet—what he terms the pedilavium in literal translation, but what we more commonly refer to as the Mandatum, the commandment. Or rather, he offers several meanings—for footwashing as a more general symbolic act such as king to his subjects; as a liturgical act within fairly strictly limited parameters such as an abbot with his monks; and (a relative novelty in the liturgical context) as a symbolic act of mercy and welcome to all, especially the marginalized, which is the only way to explain decently his allowing women’s feet to be washed on Maundy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

For what Fr Hunwicke rightly reminds his readers is that in its original context—Jesus at the Last Supper—the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday has a very particular meaning. The Lord Jesus did not wash the feet of his disciples per se, of whom there were many even then, though soon they would mostly melt away till after the Resurrection. Jesus washed the feet of the Twelve, the apostles including Judas Iscariot who Jesus knew was about to betray him (cf John 13). Jesus was in the upper room with his intimate circle, those (save for Judas who was about to break communion) whom he would shortly commission and send forth into the world to preach the Good News and repentance (for this is what the Greek word apostolos means, one who is sent with a message). Continue reading “Maundy Thursday: The Washing of Feet, Priesthood & an Ecumenical Imperative”

Recognizing the 21 Coptic Martyrs – an Ecumenical Opportunity

It is unnecessary to retell the horrific story of the disgusting martyrdom of the 21 Coptic men in Libya last week, gloatingly displayed to the world in an online video of the sort that ISIS  Daesh* is notorious for producing. Though I have not watched it, those who have say that many of the martyrs had the name of Jesus on their lips as they died. Despite the hair-splitting of the SSPX, whether or not their murder was in revenge for the killing of a senior jihadist is irrelevant: they were murdered because they were Christian, and in hatred of Christ.

*(a name hated by the ISIS jihadists themselves and so most appropriate to give them)

The second objection of the SSPX to granting the title of martyr to the 21 Coptic brethren is that the Copts are heretics. This objection has more weight to it, but how relevant is it to this situation?

Continue reading “Recognizing the 21 Coptic Martyrs – an Ecumenical Opportunity”

AWESOME ecumenical news

If you read here regularly (and my thanks to both of you!) you might remember that I spent a little time looking at the ecumenical reactions to Benedict XVI’s abdication. First I combined the reactions of a Lutheran, Russian and Greek Orthodox prelates and the leader of the Bruderhof (in the anabaptist tradition), and noted how remarkably positive they were, especially when compared to the venom dripping from some Catholic fangs. Then we looked at the official statement from Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople (the Orthodox ‘pope’ to put it very crudely and loosely) who wrote in unprecedented warm terms about Benedict, including this wonderful jewel:

We Orthodox will always honor him as a friend of our Church and a faithful servant of the sacred proposition for the union of all.

It seemed to signal that Benedict had furthered ecumenism much more than he was credited with by most commentators, and I hoped aloud that his successor could continue to build on this authentic and strong ecumenical foundation. Then Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, even more remarkably given the Russian Orthodox mistrust of the Roman Church, wrote in terms barely less fulsome, and he ventured to declare a hope:

I sincerely hope what developed during your active participation, a good trusting relationship between the Orthodox and the Catholics, will continue to grow with your successor.

BenedictBartholomewSo, imagine my stunned gaping when I saw a comment from the Restless Pilgrim alerting me to the fact that it has been announced that Patriarch Bartholomew will attend Pope Francis’ Mass of inauguration on Tuesday. This is BIG news. For the first time since the Great Schism began in 1054 the Patriarch of Constantinople, the acknowledged leading prelate among the Orthodox, will attend the enthronement of a pope. This is so immensely important I am speechless.

As discussed in an earlier post, the major obstacles to reunion between the Orthodox and Catholic communions of Churches are not essentially theological, though they certainly exist, but ecclesiological: the role of papal primacy in practice (for the Orthodox accept the principle already). While a brother priest among the Orthodox is not quite so upbeat about the theological differences, he highlights as the primary issue for now the need for mutual forgiveness between the two Churches before any theological reconciliation can be effected. Common worship is the sublimest forum for reconciliation and after almost 1000 years it seems to be upon us.

Benedict XVI has sown ecumenical seed of great richness; the opportunity now arises for Pope Francis to reap the harvest. Only God can give the growth of course, so let us pray for this encounter in worship on Tuesday. As the world grows ever more hostile to Christianity, the ancient churches should rightly seek to reconcile and confirm each other in Christian faith.

And if Patriarch Kirill will find it in his heart to come also next Tuesday, then I will renounce coffee till I die. This is so important that it is worthy of sacrifices that hurt. But for now, I will take what I can get. And Patriarch Bartholomew’s announcement is great gain indeed for us all. For now, I think I need a sherry…

Pope Francis – did you notice?

Slowly we can begin to notice little things about Pope Francis as we scrutinize and reflect. They may mean nothing or everything… or something in between! :-p

Schütz, over at Sentire cum Ecclesia, noted that in his first address to the people as pope, Francis did not use the word “pope” once, but he referred to himself as Bishop of the Church of Rome nine times. His article should be read for the context surrounding his observation. But the thrust of it is that Francis sees himself, so it would seem, primarily as Bishop of Rome. Of course he also made the point of saying that the Church of Rome presides in charity over all the churches.

Significant? It may well be. We must remember that in Argentina as archbishop of Buenos Aires Francis acted as ordinary for eastern-rite Catholics. Apart form suggesting that he may have more liturgical nous than the average Jesuit ( no offence boys), it suggest also that he has a strong awareness of the eastern Churches, and that this will colour his ecumenical approach. It was noted in posts here in the last couple of weeks that the Russian and Greek patriarchs felt that immense progress had been made in Benedict XVI’s pontificate, and hoped that this legacy would not be squandered. Perhaps Francis is precisely the man, with his eastern-rite experience, to further this ecumenical project. He is telling them he will not be the monarchical potentate of Orthodox nightmares, but preside in charity, first among equals, which is an understanding already established in Orthodox ecclesiology.

Schütz puts his own context as that of an ecclesiology fleshed out by a Lutheran friend of his, namely that the Church does not consist of churches, but in churches. In light of Vatican II we might say that the Roman Catholic Church is not the sum total of the true Church, but that the true Church, the Body of Christ, is en-limbed (to coin an ugly but useful word) in the various Churches that acknowledge the primacy of Peter and are in communion with his Successor. If this primacy could be clarified as primarily theological rather than of active governance, the Orthodox might be ready to resume communion. Indeed, the Orthodox would accept the Pope as court of final appeal with similarly relative ease. There is the filioque to consider, but that has been lived with before, and maybe it can be lived with again.

Today Pope Francis went to Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the four papal basilicas of Rome, where he paid homage to Our Lady Salus populi Romani, or “Protectress of the Roman People”. Again, this emphasis on his being primarily Bishop of Rome.

Pope Francis at Santa Maria Maggiore

But he also went to pray at the shrine of Pope St Pius V, revered by traditionalists as the pope who definitively established the so-called Tridentine Mass, or the Extraordinary Form of the Mass to be more precise. Was this a signal to liturgical traditionalists not to fear?

pius v

Pope St Pius V was a Dominican. Traditionally the Jesuits and Dominicans have been rivals in many fields, and occasionally a little dismissive of each other, to put it mildly. Is this Jesuit pope signalling a little intra-ecclesial ecumenism!? Probably not, but it is fun to think on it a little.

Pope Francis’ style continues in the vein in which he has begun. He went to Santa Maria Maggiore not in his papal limousine but in an ordinary Vatican police car! He entered the basilica by the side door. Some may be discomfited at his apparent refusal to assume the full stature (thus far) of the Roman Pontiff. But it can be argued that the spiritual power of the Pope, the power of the keys, does not need any worldly bolstering. In fact, it might be argued, the Petrine power is best shown in fidelity to Christ as Servant of the Servants of God. The pomp of the papacy might then be more a moral pomp and grandeur, a splendour found in papal doctrine and upholding of the truth.

But I may be wrong. For now, we must watch our new pope and pray for him.

Patriarch of Moscow’s Letter to Benedict XVI

patriarch_kirill_and_pope_benedict_5The Society of St John Chrysostom has translated the message sent by Kirill, Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, to Benedict XVI, on 1 March. Given that historically the Russian Orthodox have not had a whole lot of nice things to say about the Church of Rome, the warm and fraternal tone of this message is yet another example of the progress made in Benedict’s pontificate in the field of true ecumenism. Not so long ago this message would not have been conceivable. This follows after the equally warm message sent by Bartholomew, Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople. Patriarch Kirill’s message is worth reading, because one day it will be seen as a little but significant piece of history.

Your Holiness!

In these exceptional days for you, I would like to express the feelings of brotherly love in Christ and respect.

The decision to leave the position of Bishop of Rome, which you, with humility and simplicity, announced on February 11 this year, has found a ready response in the hearts of millions of Catholics.

We have always been close to your consistent ministry, marked by uncompromisingness in matters of faith and unswerving adherence to the living Tradition of the Church. At a time when the ideology of permissiveness and moral relativism tries to dislodge the moral values of life, you boldly raised your voice in defence of the ideals of the Gospel, the high dignity of man and his vocation to freedom from sin.

I have warm memories of our meeting when you were elected to the Roman See. During your ministry we received a positive impetus in the relations between our Churches, responding to the modern world as a witness to Christ crucified and risen. I sincerely hope what developed during your active participation, a good trusting relationship between the Orthodox and the Catholics, will continue to grow with your successor.

Please accept my sincere wishes for good health, long life and help from above in prayer and in your theological writings.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace” (Romans 15:13).

With love in the Lord,

+ Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia

Gosh it’s good.

Revised Missal: an ecumenical point

A little while back I was asked to contribute a brief introductory note on the Revised English translation of the Roman Missal for Together, the bulletin of Churches Together in Berkshire. The latest issue has just been distributed but there does not seem to be an online edition of the bulletin. So, for the record, the text of the note is included here, below.

As yet there does not seem to be much ecumenical reaction to the revision of the English version of the Missal, though it is very early days yet. It will interesting to see what the various Christian groups say about it.

The third typical, or standard, edition of the post-Vatican II Roman Missal was promulgated in Latin in 2002, replacing the second edition of 1973. The English translation of the earlier (current) Missal has been in use since 1975, though the process of revising that translation has been underway for some two decades. That process has at times been troubled, not least due to the fact that English is both highly politicised and internationally diffuse.

The current Missal was translated according to the 1950s linguistic principle called dynamic equivalence, which aimed above all to convey the central meaning in the original language, and was less concerned with exact correspondence to its form. The problem with this method is that very often the English bears little resemblance either to the form or the meaning of the Latin original. Biblical imagery and references were obscured or weakened, and the rhythm and structure of the Latin prayers, many of them ancient and venerable, were sacrificed to the point that the logical sequence and balance of the original was lost. It is not so easy to separate the form, structure and vocabulary of a text from its meaning and its power to move.

This noble conciseness of the Latin prayers is an essential part of the heritage of the Roman Rite, much as the rich extravagance of language in the prayers of the Orthodox and Oriental liturgies is an essential feature of those rites. Ironically, the Book of Common Prayer, which translated many of the prayers of the Roman Missal of its day, managed to capture the structure, balance and meaning of the original Latin in often astoundingly beautiful English, which even then was somewhat higher a register of voice than the English of the street.

The English translation of the revised Roman Missal of 2002 has instead opted to rely more on formal equivalence, largely retaining the structure and vocabulary of the original in its translation. As a result, the scriptural allusions, the nuances and the emotive power of the Latin original are more clearly reproduced.

A fear often raised is that the new texts will undermine years of ecumenical liturgical sharing. One suspects however that Anglicans who look to the Roman Missal for inspiration in their worship will find in the new texts a register more familiar to that of their own liturgical tradition. From a Catholic point of view, a more fundamental unity is fostered by the new texts. They will be far more faithful to the original Latin, and so to the other language translations of the Roman Rite, thus making more explicit and substantial the unity of all Roman-Rite Catholics in their liturgy. When Latin was the sole liturgical language, this unity was a given. In the age of vernacular worship, concordance with the normative latin text is crucial to express this unity. Moreover, by retaining the form of ancient prayers, a unity is strengthened not only in space here and now, but across time, with fellow Catholics of centuries past who worshipped using these prayers.