Saturday, May 28, 2011

Rapture & Rupture

It's at these sort of times that I'm rather glad that the Church, in her wisdom, can be rather vague. Some wag, during the week, noted that 'rapture' was the word preferred by those who couldn't spell parousia. For those of you not plagued by the nightmares of a millenialist childhood, the 'rapture' is the term commonly used by millenialists (and others) to describe the disappearance of 'true' believers at the end times before or after the tribulation according to which hue of millenialism you adhere to. Parousia, on the other hand, is a bit more general encompassing the events surrounding the second coming of Our Lord. Thankfully the Catholic Church has never seen fit to define a timetable for the events at the end times nor has it sort to identify particularly a mark of the beast for that matter. At little bit less egg on the face in this corner. The details of all this are thankfully hidden from our view (they don't call it the Apocalypse for nothing) however that won't stop speculation. Indeed we are enjoined to look for the signs but perhaps some people need to be reminded that 'no man knoweth the hour' (Matthew 24:36).

For some reason the whole business of rupture in the development of the liturgy is raising it's head again. I guess with the whole business of Summorum Pontificum subsiding there needed to be another cause dragged out of the cupboard again to keep the presses busy. At the moment it's largely electronic media in hyper drive but watch this space. Here's the basic question; Was the liturgical reform of 40 years ago a continuance of an ongoing process or was it a rupture with the tradition of the Church? The dividing lines here are not clear cut. You get scholars from both ends of the spectrum siding with either side. You also get some liturgists sticking their oar in.

More importantly there is a theological question. Are certain aspects of the teaching of the 2nd Vatican Council a continuance of traditional Church teaching, a development of it, or a departure from it? A satisfactory answer to this question would seem to provide the basis for an answer to those skirmishing liturgical questions. Do I hear the scratching of quills as another document is prepared?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Back to normal (as we'll ever be!)

Well the 'excitement' of the last few weeks seems to have subsided. Since the controversies over exactly what was going to get into Universiae Ecclesiae first surfaced we've witnessed a bit of a crescendo in posturing, a petition, and probably a bit of skulduggery in various quarters. Perhaps now we can get back to some normality. I can't but suspect that we have been subject to an orchestrated campaign to maintain interest. Some people thrive on these things- indeed it's the bread and butter that gives minor curial officials something interesting to do for a change. The current flurry is over. I wonder what the next will be? Actually- hold it there- it's probably best for that crowd to be busy answering questions rather than being left with spare time on their hands that they might use in 'getting creative'.

This is not to belittle all that has passed in the last few weeks but rather to pose the question 'Isn't it time we got back to the immediate business of saving souls?' Out there, in the 'real' world there is the mass murder of the innocent amongst a wealth of other horrors. A single direct statement, rather than a carefully nuanced reflection, from a diocesan office condemning these horrors should certainly be more on the agenda than skimmying your way out of a rather direct bit of advice from Head Office.

Don't mistake me. What one prays one believes. But there are also people dying, starving and suffering out there and much in need of the grace of God.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fasting and Feasting

Today's Gospel speaks of the joys that will come after suffering. It's the sort of stuff that you would expect at this time of year. In the early Church the newly baptised entered into a time of further instruction. Whilst what was necessary to make the decision for baptism had been imparted now it was time to face some of the practical realities of becoming an 'adult' Christian ready to impart the faith to others. In essence it's a warning that the times may not always be good but whatever happens they needed to keep their eyes on the ultimate end - of their Heavenly reward.

It's not a big jump to find a connection here with a bit of 'churchy' news this week. The Bishops of England and Wales have determined that from September the discipline of abstinence from meat on Fridays will be restored. And it's perfectly right that they should do this. Friday abstinence varied in it's application before Vatican 2 indeed often varied between neighbouring dioceses. I remember the story of one friend travelling across the Thames from Westminster to Southwark, on a Friday, so he could enjoy the occasional steak in post war Britain. In their wisdom the bishops may have alighted on the fact that rejoicing all the time without some form of balance can actually undermine the potency of the rejoicing. Before the joys comes the suffering.

However some commentators are opining another more 'sociological' reason for this development. Have Catholics become less distinctive, to their own detriment, from the rest of society? Do they need things that set them apart?  It would be interesting if this was the case as it would suggest that the years of integrating at all costs may be drawing to a close.  The significance of suffering for Christian life is perhaps one of the things that has got severely sidelined over the years. The application of ones' own sufferings for the benefit of others, surely a very distinctive element of the Catholic faith, is something that probably disappeared from most catechetical plans a long time ago. Perhaps with this significant step from one Bishops' conference the theology that lies behind feasting and fasting might be heard again.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Business as usual......

Friday the 13th and the blog mechanism seems to have finally sorted itself out. By now you should have read, or at least gleaned from various sources, the essence of today's emissions from Ecclesia Dei Commission. Basically nothng has practically changed nor will it unless a boot is placed firmly where it is needed. The first reaction I got was over lunch when a friend texted to say that as there was 'no pastoral need' training would not be offered in the diocesan seminary in one diocese. It was obvious the statement had been thought out some time earlier taking advantage of the rather woolly curial verbiage of the instruction itself. Nevertheless the speed and the enthusiasm with which the diocese distanced itself, and the speed that attitude got to the media, was all rather unseemly and, I gather,  will be seen as such in much more significant places than a rather provincial, on world standards,  backwater. I wouldn't be measuring for additional hat pegs in that episcopal sacristy just for a bit.

Having said that. There is much to give thanks for. Things have not reversed and the momentum continues.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The sheep of his flock

The early Christians were very struck by visual images. With a faith that attracted not only the great minds of the time but also the illiterate there was a need to pass on the stories of the Gospels in a way that they could be immediately understood. Now like stories, images rarely come from nowhere. There is always some reference to something that has existed in the past. The early Christians borrowed some of these images for their own purposes. Amongst ancient statues you can find the Moscophoros- literally the calf bearer. It is a depiction of a calf, carried around the neck of a man being taken to the altar for sacrifice.
          It’s not a great intellectual leap to find what the early believers did with this. On the ceiling of one of the cubicles in the Roman Catacomb of St Callixtus there is a striking depiction of a young man with a lamb around his neck. It is the earliest image we have of Christ the Good Shepherd. But the Christian use of the image was very clever. They had borrowed an ancient symbol but they had given it a double meaning. It could be read and explained twice. Not only was Christ the Good Shepherd but also he was the lamb being taken for sacrifice by the bearer.

  It’s only natural to ask that if Christ is the all caring shepherd why does he allow us to get into awful fixes. Perhaps this story, originally told by a lady called Nora Shankey, might help.

In highland, sheep often wander off into the rocks and get stuck in dangerous places. The grass on these mountains is very sweet, the sheep like it, and they will jump down ten or twelve feet when they spy a juicy patch. They may be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass. When they can't jump back again then the shepherd will hear them bleating. The shepherd waits until they are so faint they cannot stand, and then puts a rope around himself, and goes over and pulls the sheep up out of danger. But why doesn’t the shepherd go down there when the sheep first gets there? Well sheep are rather foolish creatures. They would probably take fright and jump into even further danger. And isn’t that the way with us; We often won't go back to God until we have lost everything. We are wanderers. However we have a Good Shepherd who will bring us back the moment we have given up trying to save ourselves and are willing to let Him save us in His own way.

So our Loving Father as the Good Shepherd often teaches us in ways that we rail and rant against, in ways that seem strange.  In ways that seem to offend the secular notions of dignity and 'rights'. Yes, we might lose everything earthly. We might even lose our diocese. But all for the sake of saving our souls. Thanks be to God.