The whole art of being a parish priest can be summed up in two loves, one fearlessness, and one fear.
The first love: Love of God. My predecessor in Sulz, the late Pater Norbert, used to spend an hour kneeling in prayer in the parish Church before Sunday Mass, and many of his parishioners have told me how moved they were by his evident friendship with God. Nothing inspires to prayer as much as seeing someone fulfilled by prayer.
The second love: Love of the parishioners. This means willing their good, and that necessitates being interested in their lives, remembering their names, suffering with those who suffer and rejoicing with those who rejoice. There is a priest in the Archdiocese of Vienna who carries a bouquet of flowers to every married couple in his parish on their wedding anniversary every year. Most every day he has several bouquets to deliver.
The one fearlessness: In order to truly love his parishioners it is important that a priest not fear them, that he not be dependent on their praise and approval, that he not be too weighed down by their criticisms. People will always be upset about something or other (“You coward! How dare you follow the Bishop’s directives on the Corona prevention!” etc.). It is important to be able to accept their anger with patience and good humor.
The one fear: The Fear of God. Nothing drives out the fear of human persons more than the fear of God. One has to realize that one will be answerable at the judgement Seat of Christ for every time that one gives way out of respect of persons.Obviously, these habits are easy to blog about, but are difficult to live in real life, as I am discovering through experience.
Tom Howard is dead, and the tributes are pouring in (First Things, The Catholic Herald, Catholic World Report, etc). I don’t want to repeat the story of his life that they tell, but only to write a few words of gratitude for having known him. He was one of my favorite people in the whole world. And he had a lasting influence on my life.Continue reading
Although St. Benedict flourished two hundred years after the Council of Nicea, his Rule is nonetheless imbued with its spirit. Arianism was still a force to be reckoned with at his time. The spirit of the Council of Nicea can be seen all over the Rule, in its Christocentrism, and its veneration for the “orthodox catholic fathers” (i.e. the anti-Arian writers). Sometimes the spirit of the council leads St. Benedict into unexpected interpretations of Sacred Scripture. Thus, in chapter 2, on the character of the abbot, St. Benedict gives a startling interpretation of Romans 8:15:
A abbot who is worthy to preside over a monastery ought always to remember what he is called and to justify his title by his deeds. For he is deemed in the monastery the vicar of Christ, since it is by His [Christ’s] title he is addressed, for the Apostle says: “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption of sons in which it is we cry out Abba, Father.”
The cry “Abba, Father” is here taken to be directed at Christ, and the old monastic title of ‘abbot’ is interpreted Christologically. It is a very daring reading of Paul, and I don’t think it would have occurred to anyone before Nicea.
The following is an excerpt from Joseph Ratzinger’s Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, available online at TCR1.
Sixteen hundred years ago, at the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, that confession of faith was formulated that, even today, is the common possession of nearly all Christian churches and ecclesial communities. Memorial celebrations in Rome and Constantinople reminded us of the date; in Germany, it was underscored by a joint statement of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches. The ancient Creed became, for separated Christians, a signpost on the road to unity. It will be rewarding, therefore, to examine it more closely. How did it originate? What does it mean? Continue reading
Mary Magadalene, the repentant sinner, weeping in the garden in front of Christ’s empty tomb is a figure of the People of God. God espoused Himself to His people in the covenant, but she, His bride, was unfaithful, and went after false gods, committing adultery against her divine Bridegroom. Mary is weeping that the Lord has been taken from her. And it is the sins of His unfaithful bride that have put Jesus to death. But He loves His Bride so much that makes atonement for her unfaithfulness. “For a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:8).
“And as she wept, she stooped and looked inside the tomb, and she saw two angels, in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and one at the feet” (John 20:11-12). She is looking at an image that calls to mind the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem: the two cherubim on either side of the Ark of the Covenant, looking at the kaporet, the mercy seat, the golden lid of the Ark, which in Greek is called hilasterion (instrument of atonement). Once a year the High Priest would come into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle blood on the kaporet to atone for the people’s unfaithfulness to the Divine Bridegroom. Now Mary Magdalene sees the blood of Christ staining the funeral shroud lying between the two angels. “But Christ arrived as high priest of all the good things which have come about through the greater and more final tabernacle not made by human hands, that is, not of this world; and not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood he entered once for all into the holy place, having found everlasting redemption” (Hebrews 9:11).
So great is Jesus’s love for His unfaithful Bride that He enters into the darkness of this world bearing to bear in full the suffering that reverses her sin.
Mary Magdalene is therefore a figure of the Church also in this: that she recognizes the reconciliation that has taken place, and calls out to Christ with love and joy. This is what the whole Church, the Bride of Christ, does now on this great Feast of Easter. This is what we de as parts of the Church—all of us:
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry! Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.Paschal Homily attributed to St. John Chrysostom
Over at The Josias we have published a new translation of Pope St. Gelasius I’s famous letter to the Emperor Anastasius I, with an introduction by me.
As a teenager I was much taken by Casel’s theory the presence of the events of Christ’s life in the liturgy, which I heard at second hand, not knowing that it was Casel’s. But later, as a young monk in theological formation, I got into a lot of arguments with a Casel-enthusiast, who drew the most absurd consequences from the theory. At that point I rejected the theory, but wasn’t able to give a full account of why it was wrong.
I recently read Roger W. Nutt’ Excellent General Principles of Sacramental Theology, and I think he puts his finger on the problem:
An important variation of moral theory of sacramental causality is the influential “mystery-presence” (mysteriengegenwart) theory of twentieth-century Benedictine Dom Odo Casel. Casel was a monk of the famed Monastery of Maria Laach, which was an influential center of the liturgical movement. His most original contribution is his presentation of the Church’s liturgy and sacraments in light of his careful study of the ancient notion of “mystery” in biblical, patristic, and pagan sources. “The mystery,” according to Casel, “is a sacred ritual action in which a saving deed is made present through the rite; the congregation, by performing the rite, take part in the saving act, and thereby win salvation.” The name “mystery-presence” is derived from Casel’s unification of the rite or “ritual action” with the presence of the “saving deed” in the mystery.
Casel’s work contains many insights, but his theory of the efficacious presence of Christ’s saving deeds in the sacraments creates, perhaps, even more ambiguities about the nature of the sacraments and their mode of causation than the insights that it contains. In particular, Casel never clarifies how a completed historical event, a saving action, is made present to a recipient who is separated from the event in time and space. For Casel, it is not the power of Christ’s saving acts, or a mediation or participation in them through the signification of the signs, but the presence of the events themselves that constitutes the mystery of the sacraments.
Furthermore, as Edward Schillebeeckx points out, Casel’s view of Christ’s saving deeds in history fails to account for their “perennial character.” Given that “time itself is irreversible,” Schillebeeckx observes, “a contradiction is inherent” in Casel’s thesis. “As the realization in human form of the redeeming Trinity,” Schillebeeckx argues against Casel, “the historical mysteries of Christ’s life, which were the personal acts of the God-man, are a permanent, enduring reality in the mode of the Lord’s existence in glory. The mystery of saving worship, or Christ’s act of redemption is, in the mode of glory, an eternally actual reality, as the Epistle to the Hebrews repeatedly stresses.”
Leeming points out that Casel’s presentation constitutes, fundamentally, a redefinition of mystery as an event. “What is present is not some mysterious efficacy in the symbols, nor the life of God, nor the person of Christ, nor the effect produced,” Leeming notes, “but there is present the saving act itself as it existed in Christ’s human life and it is present to produce conformity to the ‘mystery’ of Christ in us.” This means, Leeming continues, that “it is not Christus passus who is present, but ipsa passio, as advocates of the opinion so often assert and insist. The presence is said to transcend space and time, and sometimes the ‘saving acts’ are said to be present per modum substantiae …”
Furthermore, the subject of Casel’s mystery-presence theory is the experience that the worshipping community has of the salvific deed. “Some scholars,” Reginald Lynch explains, “see the emphasis on mystery that appears during the modern period as an extension of the nominalist emphasis on the radical omnipotence and freedom of God and its accompanying reticence regarding causal connections.” As a result of this trend, “the rhetoric of mystery can appear as a supplement for metaphysical explanation.” Lynch observes that under the influence of Casel’s “methodological choices,” therefore, “there was a decided shift [in the twentieth century] toward liturgy-as-event using the category of symbol or sign.”
It is the sacraments, precisely as causes in the order of instrumental efficiency, which make the power of Christ’s saving action and his risen life present throughout time by their signification. There is no need to conflate sacrament and historical event—or to insinuate that the sacrament becomes the historical event in mystery. Christ instituted the signs precisely for the sake of actively using their signification as the causal (instrumental) means of applying the power of his Passion and risen life.pp. 132-134
“His whole activity is said to have been either prayer or reading. Sometimes also, as a case or reason required it, he turned to writing.” — Dionysius Exiguus on Pope St. Gelasius I