The Burden of the Homily

RECENTLY A PRIEST—not a fellow monk—lamented how hard he was finding it to “get anything” for a homily from this Sunday’s readings. The first reading covers an attempt to kill the prophet Jeremiah, the epistle is from Hebrews reminding us of the cloud of witnesses who urge us on in the race of Christian living, and the gospel shows Jesus revealing he has come to bring fire to the earth and division to society, an awkward gospel for purveyors of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”

The priestly lament is a reminder of how much a burden the homily has become to many a hearer, and perhaps even more to many a preacher, in the celebration of the ordinary form of the Mass. This is almost invariably the fruit of a misunderstanding of the homily that has taken on almost dogmatic status: the homily must always and only be about the readings of the day. Continue reading “The Burden of the Homily”

A Diagnosis?

Sydney seems to have a hotter summer than I remember from my youth. There were hot days then of course, but it seems more unrelentingly hot now. Global warming? Or has absence disacclimatized me?

This trip to Sydney was planned in haste, a result of the slings and arrows of outrageous monastic life. This visit I find myself more engaged by the city’s colonial history. My reverend nephew—also sojourning in Sydney at present for some restorative rest with the family—and I have visited a number of colonial houses both private and public. For example, there was Elizabeth Bay House, a compact but grand house with now-lost extensive gardens, and Vaucluse House, more modestly grand and still with substantial gardens. The former is very much an house, the latter feels far more an home. My reverend nephew prefers the house, my reverend self prefers the home. Make of that what you will.

Elizabeth Bay House

Vaucluse House

On my return I shall be reassigned, probably to the mission. Continue reading “A Diagnosis?”

The Morning After The Night Before: A (Very) Unofficial Report from the Sacra Liturgia Summer School

In the past 36 hours, the solemnity of Our Lady’s Assumption, the Summer School here at La Garde-Freinet has celebrated 3 solemn liturgies, each involving at least one greater prelate. Others took the photos and can offer a better review in detail. What follows is more by way of reaction and reflection from one who is something of an outsider.

Two particular and abiding resonances stand out for me. One is from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2010) #16 which, drawing abundantly from the documents of Vatican II, describes the Mass this:

The celebration of Mass, as the action of Christ and of the People of God arrayed hierarchically, is the centre of the whole of Christian life for the Church both universal and local, as well as for each of the faithful individually.

The second resonance is of our Lord’s prophetic promise to Peter in John 21:18:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.

Let me explain before you come to any precipitate conclusions about these resonances. Continue reading “The Morning After The Night Before: A (Very) Unofficial Report from the Sacra Liturgia Summer School”

Ratzinger 1966 – An Unexpected Prophet, Part 2 Act I (!): Liturgical Reform

Following on from an earlier post dealing with the introductory remarks in then-Professor Joseph Ratzinger’s prescient 1966 article,  “Catholicism after the Council”, it is time to move to the next part of that article, Liturgical Reform. Here again we see that even before the watershed year of 1968 Ratzinger was questioning the implementation of the decrees of the Council in which he played such a major rôle.

(NB By way of experiment Ratzinger’s own words not already blockquoted will be in a different colour to give them their due prominence.)

At the outset of this section of the article, Fr Ratzinger acknowledges a real problem regarding the post-conciliar liturgical reform:

But this very reform, so eagerly longed for and so joyfully welcomed, has become for many people “a sign of contradiction”.

He asserts straight way that “something really great and important” has been achieved in the reform, and introduces the two most common objections being then raised against it. The first is “ the movement towards the vernacular“, which was being lamented by many as denying to “the element of mystery in religion… a language all its own“, and also removing from the unity of the Church’s members across the globe its “linguistic extension… in the language of their worship” and their unity across time in those “who have praised and will praise God in the same way and in the very same language“.

The second feature being lamented was “the movement towards the community and communal worship” which eliminates “a sacred silence which is more suited to the mystery in religious worship than loud speech, a silence in which God can speak more audibly and in which the individual can really encounter his Lord…“, an encounter that suffers in the

uninterrupted succession of praying aloud, singing, standing, sitting, kneeling and so on. Liturgy then degenerates into movement and activity for its own sake, and this takes the place of the one thing that is vital in worship, namely the encounter between the individual soul and God.

Ratzinger has given a remarkably even-handed description of these objections given that he prefaced them by asserting that there would be “no difficulty in dismissing as superficial and unjustified the[se] two objections“. To them he briefly adds a third, “an iconoclastic strain in present-day communal worship” which replaces “artistic treasures of music and song” with

mob declamations which, in their want of taste and dignity, are neither suited to the greatness of the mystery being celebrated nor calculated to attract people to worship – if anything, they have rather the effect of repelling them.

It is worth pausing here to re-read what Ratzinger has just written. He is directly quoting no-one, but presenting in his own words the primary objections to the post-conciliar liturgical reforms as they were already manifesting themselves in Europe in 1966. Even though he feels they can be dismissed, his refusal to caricature or ridicule them suggests already to the alert reader a certain, if incipient, degree of sympathy. Perhaps he is beginning to feel torn.

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Professor Ratzinger now sets out to deal with the matters raised by these objections by employing two categories: theory and practice. On the level of theory he seeks to show how untenable he believes these objections are, and how valid are the conciliar principles of liturgical reform. For this post we shall look at his comments regarding the theory; the next post will address his commentary on the practice.

THEORY

Ratzinger has little time for the general tenor of the appeal to mystery:

We can easily prove that the argument about the element of mystery in religion is not a valid one, anymore than is the argument about retreat into the silence of individual piety, not to be disturbed by the community at worship; in fact, both these arguments stem from a basic failure to understand the essence of Christian worship.

He then proposes a more adequate understanding:

The essence of Christian worship is that it is the announcement of the Glad Tidings of God to the congregation bodily present, the answering acceptance by the congregation of this acceptance, and the whole Church talking together to God… Thus the liturgy, viewed solely from its linguistic structure, is built on an intermingling of the “I” and the “ye”, which are then being continually being united in the “we” of the whole Church speaking to God through Christ.

It is important to keep in mind he is speaking of the liturgy through the logic of its verbal structure, how it reveals itself in the language it employs. In a sense, it is to see how the liturgy understands itself through what it reveals of itself in its own language. So in liturgy,

language is not for the purpose of concealment but for the purpose of revealing, it is not meant to allow each one to retreat into the stillness of his own little island of prayer but rather to lead all together into the single “we” of the children of God, who say all together : Our Father.

On this understanding, the subject in the liturgy is not the individual but the Church, in particular the Church as embodied in the congregation gathered for worship. This authentic view is fostered by the conciliar releasing “of the word from the fetters of ritual… [to give] it back its original significance as a word”. He gives a particularly sharply-edged illustration:

We are gradually becoming aware today of how meaningless it was, in fact, of how unworthy and dishonest it was, when the priest prayed before the Gospel that God might purify his heart and lips… so that he might worthily and in a becoming manner proclaim the Word of God, when he knew very well that he was about to murmur this Word of God softly to himself just as he had done with the prayer, without any thought of proclaiming it… The word has lost its meaning and had become an empty ritual, and what the liturgical reform has done here was simply to restore meaning and validity to the word and to the Church’s worship which was enshrined in it.

Ratzinger here touches on a subject that I am yet to see satisfactorily dealt with by more exclusivist proponents of the Extraordinary Form. Silence does indeed have a place in the liturgy, but its true value comes from its contrast to the ritual language and action. Silence allows the word to echo, or resound, in our minds and hearts, to implant itself more deeply within us. This process is short-circuited when there is nothing but word and action. Yet it can never begin unless there are words actually proclaimed in the first place that can then echo in our hearts.

gospel proclamation

Naturally, the words in question are generally those addressed to the people, though it can be argued the the collects and prayers offered on behalf of the people by the priest should be heard by those very same people: it is their prayer too. The silent canon, however, is more easily justified since the words are changeless, needing no fresh proclamation in the ears of the people. It is a most intimate moment of Christ addressing his Father, an intimacy heightened by the inaudibility of its words.

This example from Ratzinger is, I presume, the sort of thing that the Council Fathers had in mind for the liturgical reform: that the ritual words and the ritual action should be more clearly in harmony, and make sense of each other. The attendant danger, of course, is to over-rationalize liturgy, to subject it to the efficiencies of time-and-motion experts, which would be to make it more and more exclusively a work of man. Nor does this mean that the whole of the liturgy was in need of such refinement. It is still totally beyond me why the Eucharistic Canon had to be changed, and even others added. I can find so conciliar justification, however oblique, for this unnecessary tampering.

Ratzinger now moves, reversing the order of the objections, from the matter of the communal nature of the liturgy to the matter of its language, which is to say, its tongue. The argument that the Latin liturgy must be retained so “that the Catholic should be able to find it wherever he goes, even on Mars or the moon…” (NB Ratzinger is not being sarcastic; he is referring explicitly to Friedrich Heer’s critique.) This, says Ratzinger, “would amount to making the liturgy a museum piece, an artistic and aesthetic treasure from the past”. He makes a more positive argument in favour of the vernacular by referring to St Paul’s assertion that he would rather speak 5 intelligible words than 10,000 in a tongue (I Cor 14:19). Though St Paul had in his sights the practice of ecstatic speaking in tongues or glossolalia, nevertheless it is on the basis of this Pauline teaching that “the Greek liturgy, which by this time had become unintelligible, was translated into Latin in Rome in the fourth century, in other words, it was made available again in the vernacular of the time”. Ratzinger cites liturgical historian Theodore Klauser in agreement that the Roman liturgists in the fourth century were confusing the unintelligibility of glossolalia with the incomprehensibility of a foreign language. Nevertheless,

St Paul would have had no objection whatever to this interpretation of his pronouncements; even if he was referring to glossolalic utterances rather than foreign languages, the one was just as much at variance with his idea of liturgy as the other.

Ratzinger dismisses the idea of a language of mystery for the liturgy, as if the veiling of the liturgy in words not understood by the majority somehow safeguards, or even enhances, the mystery embodied in the Sacred Mysteries. The text of the Mass details an engagement, and even a dialogue, at the appropriate times, between priest and people which does not sit harmoniously with the employment of a mystery language. For “it is not the purpose of liturgy to fill us with awe and terror in the presence of sacred things… [nor] to provide a festive and richly-adorned setting for silent meditation and communion of the soul with itself, but rather to incorporate us into the ‘we’ of the children of God”.

That said, there are still compelling arguments for the retention of Latin as the universal language of the liturgy. Its use would eliminate the divisive debates about vernacular translations especially in such political languages as English. Moreover, in a word growing smaller yet more divided the use of Latin would circumvent ethnic and national tensions and provide a point of unity. How tragically absurd it was, for example, that in the wake of the Council the great Catholic University of Leuven/Louvain in Belgium was split in two between Flemish and Walloons, as indeed were some Belgian monasteries.

It is very much a 1960s theologian speaking here. That said, Ratzinger raises issues that still demand the attention of those whose preference is for the pre-conciliar Mass, especially those who would prefer to restore it as the sole liturgical form for the western Church. These issues do seem to be faced in the liturgies of 1964-67, even if by 1967 the observant could see where it would all end in 1970. Ratzinger appears to be one of them, to judge by his critique of the post-conciliar liturgical practice as it was rapidly developing. That critique is for the next post, act II of Part 2!

The Lament of a Liturgical Loner

Monks live liturgy. “Let nothing be preferred to the Work of God” (Rule of St Benedict 43:3) our holy father St Benedict bids us. The Divine Office and the Mass punctuate and structure our day, uniting our lives with Christ’s sacrifice of perfect praise in his Body and Blood on the Cross. This union is what gives the monk’s life its truest and deepest value. A monk with no taste for liturgy is akin to a bird who fears to fly: things can only be difficult and frustrating. So if some of us monks seem to be endlessly focusing on liturgy, you might cut us some slack. For us, the liturgy is the privileged way to live in Christ’s Body, a privilege which necessarily imposes demands on our daily living outside the liturgy. These demands we spare no effort to meet faithfully, though we so often fail.

If liturgy was a live issue before the Council of 1962-65, it has become in the wake of that Council an explosive issue. Liturgy seems never to be at rest. For some, the Council gave a licence to change comprehensively the performance of the Church’s liturgy, and the change has been unrelenting. For others the changes were unjustifiable, unconscionable even, and they reject them outright. For others still, liturgy has been something to be coped with, an unavoidable battlefield on which they try to find shelter in some compromise that acknowledges the reality of change and seeks somehow to keep it organically connected to the Tradition of the Church. Few have been satisfied.

We might ask ourselves: where is my foxhole, my bunker, my bastion, on this battlefield? So much of my reading the past year or more has shown my foxhole to be filling with mud, slowly but ever more surely. It is not a tenable position in the long-term. Two things that have brought that conclusion home with a whack in recent days. One is an article by Fr Thomas Kocik at the New Liturgical Movement. Fr Kocik is one of the leading lights of the Reform of the Reform movement, which sought to modify the reformed liturgy imposed in the wake of the Council by realigning it with both the actual teachings of the Council Fathers and with the rich liturgical tradition that had developed gradually and organically from the times of the primitive Church to the 20th century. Fr Kocik cites Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI as a prime example of a Reformer of the Reform, who proceeded

not only by his teaching and personal liturgical example but also by legislation. He accentuated the liturgy’s beauty, promoted the liturgical and musical treasures of the Western Church (including of course the usus antiquior of the Roman rite), and introduced more tangible continuity with tradition in the manner of papal celebrations (e.g., the ‘Benedictine’ altar arrangement, offering Mass ad orientem in the Sistine and other papal chapels, administering Holy Communion to the faithful on their tongues as they knelt).

But Fr Kocik is throwing up his hands in surrender. The Reform of the Reform cannot be done. It is impossible. He finds that

the ‘reform of the reform’ is not realizable because the material discontinuity between the two forms of the Roman rite presently in use is much broader and much deeper than I had first imagined.

Things are so far advanced now that it is necessary to go back to the beginning (or rather, to 1963) and start afresh on the basis of the Council’s actual, explicit, written teaching in Sacrosanctum Concilium:

[T]he road to achieving a sustainable future for the traditional Roman rite—and to achieving the liturgical vision of Vatican II, which ordered the moderate adaptation of that rite, not its destruction—is the beautiful and proper celebration, in an increasing number of locations, of the Extraordinary Form, with every effort to promote the core principle (properly understood) of “full, conscious and active participation” of the faithful (SC 14).

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The other thing that has sobered me up was a video embedded at Catholicism Pure & Simple. It compares the old and the new Masses in the act of their celebration. It is a little weighted in one direction: the sole example of the post-conciliar Mass is a portly late-middle-aged priest with some annoying American habits (and please, it is not only American priests who can have annoying liturgical habits, I know) who is set against more than one youthful and much slimmer celebrant of the Mass of 1962. The young guys are indeed examples of “best practice” of the preconciliar liturgy, though perhaps many ordinary Catholics back then did not always receive best practice. The older, new-Mass man, is not what you would call an example of best practice; though he is by no means the worst, and perpetrates none of the more spectacular abuses that could so easily have been found on Youtube.

The video, however, put a living face to the theories and principles of the liturgy that have been at issue. And they left me torn, almost asunder. Why?

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Both had aspects that did not attract. The new-Mass man was a little too cavalier in his bearing and demeanour before the most sacred things the Church has in its gift. The loud munching on the Host and the long swig of the Chalice both jar. The music was dire in its banality. The poor man felt a constant need to inject meaningfulness into the words he pronounced, even when they were addressed to God and not to the people. He fiddled around with the traditional formulas (eg “…in Jesus’ name, who reigns gently with You…”) in order to be relevant, or caring, or creative, or whatever. He gave out Communion like it was corn chips and not his God.

Yet, it is hard not to conclude that the structure and the rubrics of the new Mass lend themselves to such a practice and attitude. If you remove so many of the sacralizing elements of a ritual, of course it is going to end up secularized. Rather arbitrarily included after the Council among the “useless repetitions” the same Council had deprecated, nearly all the signs of the cross and genuflections and kissings of the altar were removed from the Mass. To one not formed under the old Mass, these gestures can appear to be fussy and pedantic and almost obsessive. They seem to cry out for some rationalization. But is such a principle appropriate to the symbolic and sacred ritual of the Mass? Are time-and-motion principles suited to something that should take us out of time and out of ourselves?

It is this same unfamiliarity with the old Mass that can make it seem quite alien. Even with my theoretical knowledge of it, it can still throw me to watch it. While I have no beef with the idea of rubrics in liturgy (for one thing, they spare the faithful too much of the priest’s ego), the old Mass can seem dizzyingly rubrical: where exactly the Missal sits on the altar, the depth and direction of bows, the placement of the paten, and the like. It does not come naturally to me. Mind you, should it?

That said, a solemn and formal liturgy does feel right. A solemn, chant-filled new Mass is wonderful. Even the vernacular does not normally worry me, and in fact I have rarely said a Mass in Latin (apart from singing daily the parts of the Mass in Latin). The ritualized movement, if not overplayed, makes sense. One hides, subsumes, oneself into it. Using the little logic that God has given me, it is apparent that in the old Mass this submission and surrender to ritual is taken to the next level. It is hard to object to it in terms of liturgical logic.

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Here probably comes the nub of the issue: the new Mass has the inherent quality that it allows the celebrant to take over. He is “president” (an awful word in liturgy), and too easily he becomes star of the show. I have seen regularly the pressure that some priests unconsciously feel to be creative, to say something relevant or meaningful, to be constantly babbling. Being in the vernacular allows the priest to dominate the Mass, in a way that is near impossible in Latin. In the vernacular he can interject and extemporize at will. There is the modern plague of the opening mini-sermon telling you what the readings are going to be about (cannot the people understand vernacular readings for themselves?!). Then there are the myriad changes and “improvements” that some priests feel that they must impose (must the people be patronized so?). The most dangerous thing of all, perhaps, for the priest is facing the people. Now, everyone’s eyes are on him and not on God and his Christ, who will return from the East. Instead of priest and people together facing God they face each other, a closed and often self-satisfied circle. Many a priest will recite the Eucharistic Prayer with his eyes on the people, and so inevitably end up talking to the people, even showing them the Host as he pronounces “Take this all of you…”, talking to the Father, but looking to the people.

In other words, there is a disjunction between what we are taught happens at Mass and what seems so often to be happening. There is an incongruence between the words and the actions. It is possible to do the new Mass properly; but the new Mass seems to have the inherent flaw that it is so easy to do improperly.

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Then there is the dazzling array of options and variations now available: options for penitential rites, for readings, for Eucharistic Prayers. More is not always better. The more the range of options, the less is it possible to have ritual in the truest sense of the word. The new lectionary has many flaws, not least that it swamps people with chunks of scripture, often out of their context, and too much for people to assimilate in any deep way. Priests either have to retrain themselves as amateur scripture scholars or waffle about some experience they have had or some story that comes to mind to illustrate the easiest point that can be mined from the readings. And not a few end up talking about themselves. Scripture is wonderful, and we should all be spending time with it in some systematic way each day. But Mass is not a scripture class. Nor should it ever be one. The Word serves the Sacrifice which is the real reason we have gathered: to unite ourselves to Christ’s perfect worship of the Father on the Cross. Anything else is secondary in the Mass.

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So this priest is left dazed and disquieted, and feeling rather alone in it all.

It is clear that so many of the young are abandoning the liturgical practice of the Faith, and who can blame them if all they were to get is Fr Superstar and pop muzak they would never want to hear outside of church, and clearly do not want to hear inside either. Why would they come if they are talked down to like children, and are never challenged with hard truths that will give them quality of life? How often do priests confront them, challenge them on things like sex before marriage, pornography, alcohol abuse? Children thrive on challenge, and youth can handle hard truths as long they can see they are not being talked down to but called upwards. If we do not tell them, then we are complicit if they go astray for lack of guidance. And we should all remember our Lord’s warning regarding those who lead his little ones astray. And when was the last time a priest mentioned hell as a reality, and a real prospect for grave and unrepentant sinners?

Communion in the hand is too often an awful spectacle. The Sacred Host – Jesus Christ no less! – is handled and fingered and self-administered in a way that does not seem congruent with what we believe the Host actually is. How I respect the goodly number at our abbey Mass who receive the Host in the throne of their hands and then raise that throne straight to their mouths, not a finger in play. They are usually converts who have made an often painful decision to submit to the Saviour in the Host. But Communion in the hand was a concession that has become the rule, and it can really jar.

Just as many youth are just leaving the churches to an ageing generation who are usually either faithful no matter the cost or who find some sort of forum for self-expression in creative liturgy, so too a healthy number of young are also finding their way into church where the Mass is celebrated properly, with dignity, with a clear sense of worship of God and not a tacky public meeting led by a dominant self-appointed few; and in fact where very often the Mass being offered is the old Mass. They participate actively enough, not by doing things but by losing themselves in the mystery. It resonates with them, it makes sense, and it challenges them, takes them out of themselves towards God.

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So is there no hope for the new Mass? Is the solution for our many dying parishes to return to the Mass of 1962 and then try for a renewal of the Mass that is more consistent with what the Council Fathers actually mandated? We certainly cannot rule out the old Mass – it is the Mass that admirably served the Church for well over a millennium, for which saints thrilled and martyrs died, which so firmly directs our gaze to God and from ourselves. It is authentic worship.

That said, the Council Fathers were neither stupid nor total dupes. They were on to something. I look at some of the interim Missals that emerged towards the end of the Council and just after and see what we might have had. One Eucharistic prayer, in Latin (since it is addressed to God, and he does speak Latin!) with readings in English, facing east but with more streamlined (and not gutted) rubrics; no vast array of options for this, that and whatnot but some apposite offerings for seasons and certain days. In those missals we were seeing the fledgling emerge before, seemingly inexplicably, a cuckoo took over the nest: a new and totally different Mass, constructed by a committee according to their personal theories of what in liturgical antiquity was to be revived (and which often, we know now, never really existed in the form asserted. Eucharistic Prayer 2 is supposedly Hipploytus’ canon, but if you read the original it differs markedly from this rudely brief composition we now have. It’s just one example. Mass facing the people is another. Communion in the hand is yet another). Alcuin Reid gives some insight into that committee which composed the new liturgy in the wake of the Council, here and here.

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So there is life beyond the old Mass, but we will need the old Mass around to inform a renewed liturgical practice and spirituality. Surely the new Mass can be saved, though it requires surgery. The revised Missal of 2012 was a step in the right direction, giving us a vernacular more suited to worship. Yes, it can be clunky, but better that than simplistically banal. But as Fr Z often says, if you do not like the translation you can always go back to the original – Latin. Moreover, maybe I need to learn the old Mass to know what I am talking about in more than abstract theory, to give it a chance. After all, I have given the new Mass over 40 years of undivided attention. Moreover, perhaps the Missal of 1965/67 which is the subject of the Agatha Christie indult should be given another, longer and better chance that the paltry few years it was allowed.

One thing seems sure: without a wholesale renewal of liturgical practice and spirituality the New Evangelization will remain just another expensive white-elephant of a programme. And priests will remain faced with the temptation to entertain and be creative in worship, and in so doing seriously undermine that worship. Without authentic worship the faithful, especially the young, will not be truly challenged to live with integrity, treating their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, and their neighbours as Christs in disguise.

It is a daunting task, and if the Church is relying on me then all may be lost. There are many places where such a renewal is already underway, or where the desire for a true renewal is brimming up. Many priests and people are discovering the liberation of a more God-centred liturgy, and its child, a more surely God-centred life. Many other priests and faithful feel the same I am certain.

Pax.

Mischief, macro and micro: a pre-conclave distraction

It the nature of an interregnum to produce a power vacuum of greater or lesser effect. In the absence of the authority figure, many start jockeying to advance their own cause, or to influence the accession of the new figure of authority. There is something inevitable about it; but there can also be something mischievous too. Mischief is sued not in the common idiomatic sense of naughtiness, but in its more sober sense of harm or trouble.

An example of such mischief in the wider Church – the macro-ecclesial level (!) – is the irrepressible and amazingly long-lived Hans Küng, self-appointed prophet for the spirit of Vatican II. The Swiss theologian, who has long since lost his right to teach as a Catholic theologian though he remains technically a priest in good standing, is a contemporary of Joseph Ratzinger and, with his more illustrious colleague, a peritus at the Council. As theologian, cardinal and pope, Ratzinger has promoted what the Council actually said, in the light of the continuous tradition of the Church. Küng has championed what he wishes the Council had said, under the camouflage title of “the spirit” of Vatican II, as if the Council has a life outside its officially agreed texts.

The man who would be Küng.
The man who would be Küng.

Küng is materially a heretic. This is not name-calling but calling a spade a spade. He denies dogmatic Church teaching, and is recalcitrant in that pose. And he is not animated by love of the Church. I remember when I was a baby Jesuit in Australia back in the late 80s. Living with us and teaching elsewhere was a wonderful theologian, a disciple of another and great Jesuit theologian of the 20th century, and who had studied in America in the 1960s. He spoke once of joining the throng to hear Küng speak in Washington, since he was one of the biggest names among the bright young theologians. This Jesuit came away not satisfied or enthused, but disturbed. Küng, he said, spoke with hate not love.

That seems to be confirmed in Küng’s latest diatribe in the New York Times, on 28 February (no link – it is not worth the time). He begins by asking if the Arab Spring that has toppled so many autocratic regimes might reach the Vatican and produce a Vatican Spring. So there you have it: the opening words liken the papacy to an autocratic regime on a par with the brutally repressive regimes now falling (though not always with happier results!). Küng then moves to tone it down by adjusting his comparison to that of absolute monarchies. But, as if a disciple of Goebbels, he knows how the rhetorical devices of effective propaganda. By beginning with the shocking comparison, it will remain in the readers’ minds no matter how much he later modifies it. Of course, it is an insult to those who do live under truly repressive regimes, quite apart from the insult to Benedict XVI, against whom Küng has turned with the venomous fury of the fabled woman scorned. If Benedict were truly repressive, Küng would have been banished to a remote monastery decades ago, or failing that, excommunicated. If only…

It gets no better. Küng traces the sins of the modern papacy to Gregory VII’s reforms which, he asserts, introduced, among other things, “compulsory clericalism”. He does not explain this startling assertion, which is just as well as it is such a rhetorical flight of fancy as to rank with the latest products coming from North Korea. Not sure what I mean? Watch this:

Küng soon moves to the topic dearest to his heart, himself. How else does one read this remarkable passage:

In 2005, in one of Benedict’s few bold actions, he held an amicable four-hour conversation with me at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo in Rome. I had been his colleague at the University of Tübingen and also his harshest critic. For 22 years, thanks to the revocation of my ecclesiastical teaching license for having criticized papal infallibility, we hadn’t had the slightest private contact.

Before the meeting, we decided to set aside our differences and discuss topics on which we might find agreement: the positive relationship between Christian faith and science, the dialogue among religions and civilizations, and the ethical consensus across faiths and ideologies.

For me, and indeed for the whole Catholic world, the meeting was a sign of hope. But sadly Benedict’s pontificate was marked by breakdowns and bad decisions. He irritated the Protestant churches, Jews, Muslims, the Indians of Latin America, women, reform-minded theologians and all pro-reform Catholics.

So Benedict’s meeting with Küng a sign of hope for the whole Catholic world. That’s how important Küng is, of course. Then the venom really comes out, and with it the lies:

The major scandals during his papacy are known: there was Benedict’s recognition of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s arch-conservative Society of St. Pius X, which is bitterly opposed to the Second Vatican Council, as well as of a Holocaust denier, Bishop Richard Williamson.

There was the widespread sexual abuse of children and youths by clergymen, which the pope was largely responsible for covering up when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. And there was the “Vatileaks” affair, which revealed a horrendous amount of intrigue, power struggles, corruption and sexual lapses in the Curia, and which seems to be a main reason Benedict has decided to resign.

Let’s be clear. Benedict did not recognise the Lefebvrian SSPX; he lifted the excommunication of its four illicitly-ordained bishops, and did so as an act of mercy and to promote ongoing dialogue with Lefebvrists with a view to reconciliation. Now if Küng had been excommunicated (and he did more than merely “criticize” papal infallibility) his screams and howls would still be echoing. But for those whose views are exactly opposite of his, excommunication is the just penalty. No dialogue for them, no mercy, no tolerance. And to say that Benedict recognised the “Holocaust denier, Bishop Richard Williamson” is a slander so deliberate as to be diabolical. It is the propagandist’s craft in all its sick glory: defining the clearly-deplorable Willamson purely by one of his more distasteful opinions. When Küng finally dies, and the Church grants him a Catholic burial, will that mean the Church approves all his opinions?

Enough of this man. His scurrilous slur that Benedict was largely responsible for covering up the sexual abuse scandal has been so comprehensively disproved that his regurgitation of it can only be malicious in intent. You get the idea. He is making mischief, and if not trying to influence the cardinals in their choice, he is certainly using this interregnum to condition the reception that will be accorded to their choice:

If the next conclave were to elect a pope who goes down the same old road, the church will never experience a new spring, but fall into a new ice age and run the danger of shrinking into an increasingly irrelevant sect.

The growing throng of committed young Catholics, and a the myriad of us not so young too, might have a different idea of where the “shrinking… increasingly irrelevant sect” is to be found.

bishop_philip-sOn the micro level we might look at the restructuring of the diocese that is being undertaken by Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, my monastery’s diocese. The summary document can be found here. Many of the measures to be implemented which will reorganise and slim down the diocesan bureaucracy have dominated attention, much of it negative. One of the features is the abolition of certain departments, such as Pastoral Formation, with the task of catechesis now being overseen by a new and wider-ranging Vicariate for Evangelization.

The Bishop’s actions are being cast by some in the worst possible light. And again, it is mischief. Much of it has been found in the neo-Anglican journal, The Tablet. Again, rather than link to them, you can get a flavour of things from this page. For example:

Bishop Egan makes it clear that one of the objectives of re-structuring the diocese is to return responsibility for formation and catechesis to the local level of pastoral areas and parishes. Regarding the diocesan role of laity the report states that the three committees of trustees will comprise four members– two clergy, two lay – together with other co-opted members who bring particular expertise.

But The Tablet’s hatchet job on Bishop Egan’s and the trustees thoughtful and simple plan to re-establish subsidiarity to the parishes makes no mention of these review findings, instead it reports alarmist assertions from Fr Sean Tobin and Dr Keith Chappell that Bishop Egan is seeking to downplay the role of the laity.

The Tablet reports:

‘In his parish newsletter, Fr Sean Tobin, parish priest of the Churches of Our Lady, Fleet, with Holy Trinity Church, Cookham, Berkshire, paid tribute to the department for “enabling parishioners to explore and grow in faith”. He told The Tablet that a number of parishioners were upset about the redundancies and that he was worried about who would undertake the work of forming catechists after the loss of the department. […]Under the plans, the department for pastoral formation will be replaced by a department for the New Evangelisation, which will come under a vicariate for evangelisation and will be run by a priest.  Fr Tobin said: “There is a lot of frustration from people as they recognise the great work the department has done over the years. My frustration is over what it says about the role of the laity and the role of the department. There was also not a lot of recognition from the diocese over the work the department has done over the years.” He added that two of his parishioners were among those who had lost their jobs.’

So, the Bishop is reducing the role of the laity. Shock horror. But is he? Lay trustees are still there overseeing the vicariates with clerics. Isn’t the real aim to have clergy and laity working together for the good of the Church, not one assuming “power” over the other? (Beware the hermeneutic of power in any discourse on the role of the laity.) In fact, the Bishop has, to employ unwillingly this power hermeneutic, taken away the power of a few elite lay people in the diocesan bureaucracy and handed it back to a larger number of lay people at the parish level, where the work of catechesis is actually done.

But for a truly comprehensive demolition of the mischief The Tablet is fostering, go read Dr Shaw’s analysis. Particularly interesting in his insight into the self-contradiction inherent in the position take by the Tabletistas. They abhor the alleged centralising of general power in Rome, but support the centralising of local power in diocesan bureaucracies. They demand the Vatican give power to the laity and take it from a clerical elite, but oppose the giving of catechetical responsibility to the laity in parishes and away from a salaried lay elite at diocesan level. Please read Dr Shaw’s piece on his blog. It exposes the mischief clearly.

As the conclave fast approaches, and as we begin to look forward to the end of this interregnum, let us pray all the more fervently that the cardinals elect the pope we need and God wants, and not the man (if he exists) sought by the mischief makers.