Monday, November 30, 2009

A Pastoral Magisterium: Bp. Nickless' pastoral letter (part 1)

This is the first of a ten-part series on the recent pastoral letter of Bishop R. Walker Nickless for the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa. His letter, entitled Ecclesia Semper Reformanda can be viewed online as a single HTML page, or downloaded as a PDF or as a Word document (formatted to "folio" paper size to be printed as a booklet on 8.5" x 11" paper).

I will be providing the full text of this letter (slightly edited for formatting) with emphasis and commentary.
  1. Preface
  2. I. Introduction
  3. II. The Second Vatican Council and the New Evangelization
  4. III. The Current Context
  5. IV. Pastoral Priorities for the Diocese of Sioux City:  1. Renew Eucharistic Spirituality
  6. IV. Pastoral Priorities:  2. Strengthen Catechesis
  7. IV. Pastoral Priorities:  3. Foster Faithful Families
  8. IV. Pastoral Priorities:  4. Foster Vocations
  9. IV. Pastoral Priorities:  5. Embrace Missionary Character
  10. V. Conclusion
Ecclesia Semper Reformanda
(The Church is Always in Need of Renewal)

A Pastoral Letter on the Future of the Church
in the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa
To the Priests, Deacons,
Consecrated persons and all the Lay Faithful
of the Diocese of Sioux City
15 October 2009
Memorial of Saint Teresa of Jesus
Virgin and Doctor of the Church

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Greetings of peace and joy to you and all your families. By God's providence we are privileged to live in northwest Iowa and practice our faith in the Diocese of Sioux City. I am honored to serve you as your Bishop.
Note how His Excellence makes it clear that his vocation to the episcopate is one of service.  The triple office of a bishop – to teach, to govern, and to sanctify – are works of love, of charity.  To be an ordained minister of the Church is to be a servant of the People of God.  Pope St. Gregory the Great described his office as "servant of the servants of God."
I take great joy in sharing with you my first pastoral letter for our Diocese. It is my hope that this document be a source of instruction and direction for all of us: priests, deacons, consecrated persons, and faithful laity. The points shared in this pastoral letter are basic to the celebration and faithful living of our Catholic faith. They are the foundation of all that we are called to do for the Lord in our Diocese and beyond.
This is his first pastoral letter after about four years as their bishop.  We'll see why it took that long in the next section.  He makes it clear, though, that this letter, while pastoral, is an instruction to his diocese; it is not a mere observation or opinion, this is his instruction to his flock.  Bishop Nickless says the letter pertains to foundational elements of living and celebrating the Catholic faith, to the basics of being Catholic.
As I publish this pastoral letter, I do so on the Memorial of Saint Teresa of Jesus. On this day, the Church prays: "O God, you raised up Saint Teresa by your Spirit so that she could manifest to the Church the way to perfection. Nourish us with the food of her heavenly teaching and fire us with a desire for holiness." May Saint Teresa be an inspiration to all of us in our desire to grow in holiness.

This is the Year for Priests promulgated by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. I express to each of the priests in our Diocese my profound gratitude for their faithful witness of holiness and dedication to you, the People of God and to me, their Bishop. Priests are co-workers with the Bishop in the mission given to us by Christ. Please pray for us.

May all of us, united in love, continue to grow in the same holiness of Saint Teresa and Saint John Vianney as we continue to live our faith in hope and love.
The constant theme here is holiness, not only of priests, but of all Catholics.  This holiness is attained through a unity in love, in charity.  Faith, hope, and love (the three theological virtues) are succinctly brought together here:  by living and celebrating their Catholic faith daily (as individuals, a family, a parish, and a diocese) with the same hope and true love, the faithful of the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, will grow in holiness.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Amazing Advent homily by Anglican priest on the Church being "one"

And with that, we encounter the truth that may feel inconvenient for us as Anglicans that full communion with the Pope, and the Oneness, the Unity, the fullness of the Church are inextricably and by God’s Will bound up together. And we Anglicans – in common with Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, URCs, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Presbyterians – do not have that full communion with the Pope, and so by this ancient understanding of the Church are separated from the Oneness, the Unity, the fullness of the Church.
Read the whole thing by Rev. Giles Pinnock ("a Catholic-minded Anglican").  It's the first of four homilies he will be giving during Advent on "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" from the Nicene Creed.

Pray for unity, and pray for Benedict XVI, the Pope of Christian Unity.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Catholic Church and Closed Communion

(11/26 edit: I left out perhaps the most obvious meaning of "Communion", which I have now included below.)

The Catholic Church, unlike many other Christian communities, has a discipline known as "closed communion." This means that (other than very exceptional cases), only members of the Catholic Church may partake of Holy Communion (that is, receive the Holy Eucharist).  Some non-Catholics are very confused by this policy. They see it as exclusive: "Why aren't all invited to the table or the Lord? Did Jesus exclude anyone?" They see it as divisive between Christians: "We allow non-[XYZ]'s to receive the Lord's Supper, so why don't Catholics?" Some are deeply hurt by not being able to receive Communion.

To explain this discipline, we must describe accurately what the Eucharist is and what Holy Communion means to the Church.

Regardless of what a person thinks the Eucharist is, no matter what a person thinks he is eating when he receives Holy Communion in a Catholic church, he is receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord and Savior. He is not receiving bread or wine, nor a "symbol". If this blessed gift is received unworthily, he adds sin (unworthy reception) to sin (which made his reception unworthy in the first place). Furthermore, this is not just a "meal" or "banquet." This is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb under the veil of a sacrament; this is the consumption of a sacrificial offering.

This Marriage Supper, this mystical wedding banquet, is for those who are "wedded" to Christ in His Church.  In other words, receiving Holy Communion means that you are in communion with Christ and His Church.  That naturally excludes those who are not Christian at all, the unbaptized.  Just as St. Paul wrote that the "fathers" of Israel "all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink" (1 Cor 10:2-4), so those who are baptized into Christ receive a supernatural food and drink.  It was only the Israelites (those of the older covenant) who partook of that supernatural food and drink; likewise, it is only the Church (those of the new covenant, not just one nation) who partake of this supernatural food and drink.

It also excludes those who are Christians but are separated (or "estranged," you could say) from the Bride of Christ, which is the Catholic Church, whether by mortal sin or by not holding the Catholic faith.  Faith is a matter of fidelity to God; the Church is faithful to her spouse, Christ, and so her members too must be faithful, believing that Catholic faith.

Catholic doctrine is that the Eucharist is a true sacrifice offered to God. (Numerically, it is the same sacrifice as that of Christ on the cross, with only the manner of the offering being different: the Eucharist is unbloody. Likewise, the Body which is received in the sacrament is numerically identical to that which was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and died on Calvary.)  Let me repeat: the Eucharist is a sacrifice; receiving Holy Communion is partaking in a sacrificial meal. As St. Paul asked, "Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?" (1 Cor 9:13) "Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?" (1 Cor 10:18)  You are partaking in a sacrificial offering at an altar.

If, as some Protestants believe, the Mass is a satanic and pagan corruption of true worship of God, and the Eucharist is a satanic and pagan sacrifice, then the Eucharist would be being offered "to demons and not to God" (1 Cor 10:20), and anyone who receives Holy Communion at Mass is partaking of the "table of demons." (1 Cor 10:21)  What did St. Paul say about that? "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons." (1 Cor 10:21)

Regardless of whether the Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist is true (and of course, I believe that it is), Catholics believe they are offering a sacrifice to God and are then partaking of that offering. If they are right, and you want to receive it too, why aren't you Catholic?! And if they are wrong, and it is a pagan offering and a fellowship with demons, why would you want to receive it?!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Support these Catholic Speakers!

Matthew Warner of Fallible Blogma has finally assembled the link list of bloggers who wrote about 100+ Catholic speakers.  Check out the list here!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fr. John Corapi comes to New Jersey in 2010

Breaking news from WFJS 1260 AM, New Jersey's only Catholic radio station:

Fr. John Corapi will be making only five public speaking appearances in 2010, God-willing, and one of those appearances will be in New Jersey!  Fr. Corapi will be at Prudential Center in Newark for an all-day conference on Saturday, October 30, 2010.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Liturgical Spirituality: The Baptismal Priesthood and the Mass (Part III)

The Unique Contribution of the Bread and Wine

← Part II: Spiritual Sacrifices United to Bread and Wine

While the faithful are called to unite their spiritual sacrifices to the bread and wine on the altar, this contribution is the duty of the faithful and does not make up the matter of the Eucharist, which is strictly bread and wine.  There is no Eucharist without these elements, prefigured by Melchizedek and chosen by Christ.  We offer ourselves spiritually, whereas we offer the bread and wine physically.  The bread and wine are a necessary component of the Mass, and they provide a unique contribution.  Quoting from Pope John Paul II's letter Dominicae Cenae once more:
All who participate with faith in the Eucharist become aware that it is a "sacrifice," that is to say, a "consecrated Offering." For the bread and wine presented at the altar and accompanied by the devotion and the spiritual sacrifices of the participants are finally consecrated, so as to become truly, really and substantially Christ's own body that is given up and His blood that is shed. Thus, by virtue of the consecration, the species of bread and wine re-present in a sacramental, unbloody manner the bloody propitiatory sacrifice offered by Him on the cross to His Father for the salvation of the world. Indeed, He alone, giving Himself as a propitiatory Victim in an act of supreme surrender and immolation, has reconciled humanity with the Father, solely through His sacrifice, "having cancelled the bond which stood against us."

To this sacrifice, which is renewed in a sacramental form on the altar, the offerings of bread and wine, united with the devotion of the faithful, nevertheless bring their unique contribution, since by means of the consecration by the priest they become sacred species. This is made clear by the way in which the priest acts during the Eucharistic Prayer, especially at the consecration, and when the celebration of the holy Sacrifice and participation in it are accompanied by awareness that "the Teacher is here and is calling for you."
During the Offertory, the priest asks God to be pleased with the offering of bread and wine, which are natural and imperfect (although they are the best we have to offer).  God accepts them as fitting matter for the Eucharist and changes their substance in the Eucharistic Prayer:  they become supernatural and perfect.

Because of what the bread and wine will become (once consecrated) the union of our spiritual sacrifices to the bread and wine during the Offertory is a sign of our participation in Christ and His sacrifice.  The bread and wine already have a physical likeness to Christ's sacrifice, since they are the same elements He used, and the same elements that were offered centuries before Him by Melchizedek.  When we join our spiritual sacrifices to them in the Offertory, each of us gives them (to our own degree) a spiritual likeness to Christ's sacrifice.  In the Eucharistic Prayer, this likeness is perfected as they receive a substantial likeness to Christ's sacrifice.

What began as our gift to God, bread and wine, becomes His gift back to us, the Eucharist.  But this gift to us is not meant simply for our nourishment, as the Eucharistic Prayer makes clear immediately following the consecration:  the Body and Blood of our Lord, under the species (appearances) of bread and wine, are then offered back to God as the perfect sacrifice.  Only after this offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass do we partake in the sacred banquet of Holy Communion.

The final part of this essay revisits the idea of joining our sacrifices to the offering at the altar, now that the offering is no longer bread and wine, but the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord.

Retreat this weekend

It's been a while since I went on a retreat.  This weekend, I'm chaperoning a high school retreat in the Poconos.  No internet at all for a good 48 hours.  Silence can be golden.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Liturgical Spirituality: The Baptismal Priesthood and the Mass (Part II)

Spiritual Sacrifices United to Bread and Wine

← Part I: The Function of the Baptismal Priesthood at Mass

An external act that represents an internal reality is an empty show unless that internal reality is truly present. Imagine a man giving his wife a bouquet of roses, a gesture that is generally recognized as a display of love, without actually caring about her at all. The roses are real, the wife's reaction is real, but there is something missing: the intention. This analogy is apropos for the Offertory of the Mass, when bread and wine are brought to the priest. This external act, often carried out by members of the congregation, is not a mere functional procedure; it is representative of so much more.

The bread and wine were once, in the earlier days of the Church, the product of the community. They were presented along with other donations and material offerings. With the passage of time, the bread and wine were "regularized," and the offerings tended more and more towards monetary donations. Our monetary support finances the bread and wine, so they are still the "product of the community." But these physical offerings are not the only thing the faithful present to the priest at this time. Now, as then, the bread and wine also represent all that we have to offer to God. This is how Pope John Paul II explained the significance of this rite in his 1980 letter to Bishops on the Eucharist, Dominicae Cenae:
Although all those who participate in the Eucharist do not confect the sacrifice as [the priest] does, they offer with him, by virtue of the common priesthood, their own spiritual sacrifices represented by the bread and wine from the moment of their presentation at the altar. For this liturgical action, which takes a solemn form in almost all liturgies, has a "spiritual value and meaning." The bread and wine become in a sense a symbol of all that the eucharistic assembly brings, on its own part, as an offering to God and offers spiritually.
The only sacrifice that is truly acceptable to God the Father is the Eucharist, which is the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  But God looks on what we offer with fatherly affection.  The bread and wine presented to Him by the priest is deemed acceptable as the means by which He will give us the Eucharist; the bread and wine are gifts from God to begin with.  Because the bread and wine represent our spiritual sacrifices, these too are regarded with a similar love:  God knows what He will make of the bread and wine, and He knows what He will make of our meager sacrifices.

The bread and wine are blessed during the Offertory prayers; they are set aside to be consecrated in the Eucharistic Prayer, when they will be transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ.  But in that brief time between the Offertory and Consecration, the bread and wine are sacramentals because of the prayer of the priest over them.  A sacramental, such as the bread or wine to be used in the Eucharistic Prayer, or a paten or chalice, is dedicated for a particular use when blessed.  This is not the same as the change that takes place in a sacrament (such as the Eucharist), where bread and wine change ontologically (that is, in their substance, their reality).  A sacrament involves a change of being, while a sacramental involves a change of purpose.

By uniting our spiritual sacrifices to the bread and wine in the Offertory, we "appropriate" those sacramentals, much in the same way we "appropriate" Holy Water (another sacramental) by being blessed with it, or we "appropriate" a blessing over a meal by praying it.  We join our spiritual sacrifices to the bread and wine (which represent, physically, those very sacrifices), imbuing them with a greater spiritual significance for each of us and for the Church as a whole.

In presenting the bread and wine (with our spiritual intentions) to God, we are like the good stewards in the parable of the talents: "Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more." (Matt. 25:20) The first five talents are the "good works ... prepared [by God] beforehand" for which we were "created in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:10; cf. 2 Cor. 9:8), whereas the second five talents are the "fruit[s] in every good work" that we carry out. (Col. 1:10; cf. John 15:1-8; Rom. 7:4)  As the Offertory prayers state (in the Latin and the accurate English translation), "through [God's] goodness we have received the bread we offer [Him]." The bread and wine we offer to God are the "five talents more", the fruit of investing the "five talents" which God gave us (seed and water and sunlight).

When we join our devotion to the bread and wine, we should be mindful of what will happen to the bread and wine:  it will be changed in substance to become the Eucharist.  The significance of our spiritual sacrifices bound up with the bread and wine will be made clear in the next two parts of this essay.

Support a Catholic Speaker: Jeff Cavins

I first heard about Jeff Cavins a year and a half ago when my parish decided to use the Great Adventure Bible Timeline study, which brings you through the story of the Bible (14 books' worth) chronologically in 24 weeks.  Those of us who wanted to be facilitators for the Bible study attended a Called to Lead conference held at our diocesan center in July of 2008, sponsored by Ascension Press who publishes the Great Adventure series.  Jeff (along with a host of other excellent Catholic speakers, such as Dr. Tim Gray and Dr. Ted Sri) was there presenting the Timeline and its related studies to my diocese (as well as other dioceses in the NY-NJ-PA are).

Jeff began developing the Great Adventure Bible Timeline back in 1984 as a way of helping Christians see "the big picture" in the Bible, the story of covenants between God and man, the story of a promised Savior:  salvation history.  He was not a Catholic at that time, but his quest to understand Scripture better led him to the conclusion that the Church which Jesus founded is none other than the Catholic Church.

Jeff has been busy as a Catholic.  A friend of Mother Angelica, he filled in for her on her live EWTN shows from time to time, produced and hosted Life on the Rock for six years, and taped a thirteen-part series with Dr. Scott Hahn entitled Our Father's Plan (which serves as a good overview of the Bible Timeline).  In addition to being a husband and father, he gives talks at conferences all across the country throughout the year.  He writes for Catholic Scripture Study International and has authored several books, including My Life on the Rock (his autobiography) and I'm Not Being Fed! (on the Eucharist).

If Scripture stumps you, if the Bible bores you, if the Word worries you... give Jeff Cavins and the Great Adventure Bible Timeline a chance.  You'll receive a wonderful Scriptural foundation that you can build upon for the rest of your life.

Support Jeff Cavins' Scripture ministry by visiting Ascension Press.

Learn about other Catholic speakers at Fallible Blogma!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Liturgical Spirituality: The Baptismal Priesthood and the Mass (Part I)

The Function of the Baptismal Priesthood at Mass

There are two ways that Christ's priesthood is exercised in the Church. One is the ministerial priesthood, whereby men are ordained as priests to offer the Eucharist, the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Altar. The other is the common priesthood, whereby every baptized Christian is called to offer spiritual sacrifices to God, ultimately offering Him their very selves.

The line between these two priesthoods, which "differ from one another in essence and not only in degree" (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 10), has been blurred or even erased in the minds of some Catholics today. Some denigrate the ministerial priesthood (or elevate the baptismal priesthood) to equate the two priesthoods, treating the ministerial priest as a mere representative of the congregation, instead of as the representative of Christ.  This is utterly opposed by Church teaching, as the documents of Vatican II make clear.

There is a serious lack of understanding concerning the baptismal priesthood and what it truly entails, especially in the context of the Mass. What must be understood is that the baptismal priesthood is an exercise of the apostolate of the laity, just as the ministerial priesthood is an exercise of the apostolate of the ordained. Of course, one must know, then, what the apostolate of the laity is!  It just so happens that there is a Vatican II document specifically about that, Apostolicam Actuositatem. In addition to that document, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, summarizes the lay apostolate in Part IV (paragraphs 30-38):
[T]he laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer. (Lumen Gentium 31)
The word apostolate can be understood as "mission."  What is the "mission" of the laity?  We are called to live outside the walls of churches and monasteries and convents. We are called to bring the sanctifying presence of Christ into the world: that is why Mass ends with a dismissal, a missio, a mission. In our capacity as baptismal priests, we are called to make of the world (and our lives in it) an offering, a spiritual sacrifice to God, joined to the ministerial priest's sacrifice of the Eucharist.

Some people think (because they were taught so) that Vatican II opened the door to myriad liturgical activities performed by the laity; that's how they interpret the call to "active participation" (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14).  That is simply not the case.  In all the Council documents, there is but one sentence which speaks directly to the carrying out of liturgical functions by the laity:  "Finally, the hierarchy entrusts to the laity certain functions which are more closely connected with pastoral duties, such as the teaching of Christian doctrine, certain liturgical actions, and the care of souls." (Vatican II, Apostolicam Actuositatem 24)  While the extraordinary assistance of some laymen at Mass is appreciated in times of necessity, the exercise of the baptismal priesthood at Mass is not rooted in "a visible liturgical rite" (Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei 93) but rather in the spiritual union of their own sacrifices with the bread and wine presented to the priest, culminating in the union of themselves to the Eucharist offered to the Father.

Part II of this essay will examine the uniting of spiritual sacrifices with the bread and wine in the Offertory.

Liturgical Spirituality: The Baptismal Priesthood and the Mass

I will soon be presenting a rough essay in four parts.  I recently had a wonderful conversation with a fellow Catholic on the exercising of the baptismal priesthood at Mass:  the joining of our spiritual sacrifices with the bread and wine (at the Offertory) and then with the Eucharist (after the Consecration).  There have been some minor epiphanies on both sides, and I will be presenting the substance of the conversation as a series of four posts:

Here's an outline of the parts of this series:
  1. The Function of the Baptismal Priesthood in the Mass
  2. Spiritual Sacrifices United to Bread and Wine
  3. The Unique Contribution of the Bread and Wine
  4. Spiritual Sacrifices United to the Eucharist