My readers here know I’m a huge skeptic on the use of the word “heretic.” Too often, it is bandied about by conservatives who don’t exactly have an iron grip on orthodoxy. Instead of calling an opponent a @#&%ing meathead, they bring out the seven-letter word, and dismiss not only the ideas, but the person’s basic quality of redemption. And why, it gets easy to ask, do we bother with people outside the flock when we can deal with our smaller, so-called purer church?
When asked to define heresy, Mr Douthat responded:
Looking at Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians, there is an intellectual core in the Christian faith. Sometimes that core gets blurry in various places, but you have the Nicene Creed, the belief that the Bible is the inspired word of God, that the four Gospels are the best sources of information about Jesus of Nazareth. There are a lot of religious movements and ideas that diverge from that core enough to be heretical but not to be a different religion entirely.
Fair enough. But still skewer-worthy.
My sense from this brief answer is that Mr Douthat is operating more in the mode of rationalism. And as a son of the Western Enlightenment culture, I would expect a definition to be focused on the Christian from the neck up. What does a person know? What does a person think? What can we dredge up from YouTube that people have said–and use it against them? As a counterweight to intellectualism and reason, I might go to the Gospels and come up with this passage:
‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.”He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went.The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go.Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. (Matthew 21:28-31)
Without getting dogmatic about this passage, it’s one of a long line of Scriptures that seem to point us to the notion that God is just as concerned about a believer’s actions as a believer’s words. Orthopraxis trumps orthodoxy. And you don’t have to look very far or very deep to find it: Matthew 25, 1 Corinthians 13, Isaiah 58, Micah 6. And any parent will tell you that actions speak louder, much louder, than words.
All of this is totally debatable, and people can look at the same landscape and disagree about who a heretic is. But the term is still quite useful in describing the reality of a country that is neither traditionally Christian nor post-Christian in any meaningful way. We are in a zone between those two things.
A country is a political entity. Not a religious institution. The United States has always been in a zone outside of traditional Christianity. We’ve been a little less persecution-oriented than our European ancestors.
I can agree with some of Mr Douthat’s conclusion here:
As a practicing Catholic, I have an obvious bias in favor of institutional religion. But if you look at Christian history, the belief that everyone can follow Jesus on their own is not a particularly realistic approach to religious faith. It is a faith best practiced in community with doctrine passed down through generations. What makes me pessimistic is that all the trends in contemporary American life are toward deinstitutionalization, not just in religion but across the board.
Naturally, faith is a practice (not just an academic discipline). Community: love that word.
I’m mildly fascinated by this book. Maybe I will read it. Though I’d prefer a good rousing discussion on the seventy-year trend (longer in Europe) toward deinstitutionalization. The conservatives can’t escape it themselves. My sense is that they get the blame for it by about a two-to-one margin over liberals. And I think one has to go back even before the Great War (1914-1989) to capture the flavor and extent of disillusionment with political leadership in the West. And when you throw in modern trends that mostly have worked against community: television, automobiles, suburbs, the internet, big business, etc., I think you have a far more complex picture than the simple label of “heretic.”
My sense is that leadership is sorely lacking in Catholic leadership circles. And it’s getting worse. We have a whole raft of bishops who are saying the right things (otherwise they’d be getting investigated rather than promoted) but whose actions have left grave doubts in the minds of millions of believers, both parish priests and laity. Like Mr Douthat, I have a strong bias toward institutional religion. But I’ll tell you some news from the front: a lot of people are following Jesus on their own because they think their leaders have bailed on the journey. Not because they think they know better than a bishop or a catechism.
The account of the two disciples encountering the Lord on the road to Emmaus is rich and much loved. I tend to think of it more as a metaphor for the Eucharistic liturgy, an exploration by the early disciples of their encounter–their repeated encounters–with the Lord in the breaking open of the Word, and in the breaking of the bread.
Jesus walks along with two disciples. Cleopas and his companion (perhaps a wife) are incredulous that this stranger seems ignorant of the momentous events of the past few days:
“The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.
But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.”
Even among the Twelve, there were those who embraced the motto, “Seeing is believing.” And among those of us who profess faith, who among us would not be bolstered by the experience of seeing? When a person dies, have we said and done everything needful? Or do we wish for one last moment before letting go? Would we be helped by one glimpse of our beloved in heaven? Of course we would. But then we would replace faith with surety.
And yet, there is something mysterious, if not mystical about this encounter. Cleopas and his companion “see” the stranger. But perception of the truth of the stranger, of Christ, only occurs gradually. First comes the revelation through the Scriptures, and the final breakthrough–in the breaking of the bread. But Christ’s reassuring presence is fleeting. What is left is not so much an afterimage, but a burning in the heart, and a crazy urge to retrace the day’s steps and tell the good news.
Given all that, is the Emmaus account a worthy Gospel to preach at a funeral? Perhaps the deceased was known for her or his Eucharistic faith. Perhaps the mourners need that glimpse, that breaking open the Word, that sacramental encounter. Do we believe in the Communion of Saints? Are we open to the notion that someone has gone on ahead of us, and awaits us in the heavenly banquet? If so, perhaps this resurrection narrative is fitting.
Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?
There is an option to omit verses 17-27, and just focus on the initial meet-greet and the experience of Jesus breaking the bread, followed by the nightfall dash to Jerusalem.
Some of you know that the Easter Sequence can be used at Masses for the first week of Easter. At our Thursday night student Mass, a request came down to sing it. The student leader was unfamiliar with the plainsong, which, of course, is lovely when done well. I knew she would be more at ease improvising something, and with the English text. So the flute player and I came up with a musical background in the lydian mode. Our final result was an extended “mood” for flute and piano, and Elise started singing when she felt comfortable we had played long enough. Then we finished up our adventure in C-lydian and went straight in to Howard Hughes’ “Joyful Alleluia.” I just love that piece. Seven-Eight time is just perfectly jaunty.
It was interesting that the priest and the student planners opted to use incense for this Mass, but selected a Kyrie over a Sprinkling Rite.
On another front, a parishioner emailed me wondering about Sunday’s song choices. Nothing of Easter, she protested. And if we were looking for selections from the Easter section of Gather Comprehensive, she was right. Haugen-Alford’s “We Walk By Faith.” David Haas’s “Without Seeing You,” which we usually reserve for Easter. But its verses come from all over the Biblical map. Psalm 118, of course. But these pieces don’t have the resonance with the Easter Season. All this was topped by the bulletin cover which reminded parishioners of the Fifty Days of Easter–and it was quoted back to me. Paul Ford muses about it at PrayTell, I see. By some accounts, I’ve failed Easter Octave–do I have a prayer for Fifty Days? Time will tell. What about you readers?
If my daughter had attended a public school in fifth grade, I would have been opposed to her receiving a Protestant KJV too. While most small Gideon Bibles only contain a New Testament, plus Psalms and Proverbs (I have two or three in the house and my church office), even their full version omits what I could consider important items: Tobit, Baruch, Sirach, and a few others. I wouldn’t expect an evangelical Christian group to provide Catholic bibles to Catholic students, and on the same wavelength, I can see how non-Christians would insist their eleven-year-olds not be subject to even the subtlest pressure on the religion front in the setting of their peers.
When I worked in a small Iowa town a decade ago, a similar discussion came up with high-school athletes having organized prayer led by adults. One of my parishioners, a woman who worked for the school, was curious about my objection to this. Among the Christians on the team, I wondered openly, would different students be free or even willing to bring prayers from their respective Christian traditions, to these meetings? What do you mean, she asked. Would Protestant adults permit and welcome a Catholic athlete suggesting they pray the Rosary? The thoughtful silence told me all I needed to know.
Gideons International in Canada seems prepared to accept and end to the free offer. Spokesman Kelvin Warkentin:
Over time, due to the religious fabric of our country being re-woven, school boards have begun to re-evaluate their policies on this tradition. The Gideons’ response to the school boards’ decisions to discontinue the distributions has always been complete acceptance.
Evangelization is not easy. Even the Protestants would acknowledge you need a lot more than a free Bible dropped into a non-believer’s lap. There is no substitute for one-on-one ministry to another person. The threats levied at the Bluewater District School Board tell you all you need to know about this flawed expression of Christianity and the clumsy sense of entitlement some Christians insist on clutching at. Time to get to work, if you really believe what you preach.
The final five declarations of Pope Pius X and his council are aimed at supporting this “new” initiative.
Confessors have their part to play:
5. That the practice of frequent and daily Communion may be carried out with greater prudence and more fruitful merit, the confessor’s advice should be asked. Confessors, however, must take care not to dissuade anyone from frequent or daily Communion, provided he is found to be in a state of grace and approaches with a right intention.
Not only are all clergy called upon to support it, but they must do so often and with enthusiasm:
6. But since it is plain that by the frequent or daily reception of the Holy Eucharist union with Christ is strengthened, the spiritual life more abundantly sustained, the soul more richly endowed with virtues, and the pledge of everlasting happiness more securely bestowed on the recipient, therefore, parish priests, confessors and preachers, according to the approved teaching of the Roman Catechism should exhort the faithful frequently and with great zeal to this devout and salutary practice.
Leaders of religious communities and seminaries, as well as those who guide and teach youths:
7. Frequent and daily Communion is to be promoted especially in religious Institutes of all kinds; with regard to which, however, the Decree Quemadmodum issued on December 17, 1890, by the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, is to remain in force. It is to be promoted especially in ecclesiastical seminaries, where students are preparing for the service of the altar; as also in all Christian establishments which in any way provide for the care of the young (ephebeis).
Religious communities already devoted to reception of Communion at particular times as part of their apostolate received a challenge:
8. In the case of religious Institutes, whether of solemn or simple vows, in whose rules, or constitutions, or calendars, Communion is assigned to certain fixed days, such regulations are to be considered as directive and not preceptive. The prescribed number of Communions should be regarded as a minimum but not a limit to the devotion of the religious. Therefore, access to the Eucharistic Table, whether it be rather frequently or daily, must always be freely open to them according to the norms above laid down in this Decree.
Furthermore, in order that all religious of both sexes may clearly understand the prescriptions of this Decree, the Superior of each house will provide that it be read in community, in the vernacular, every year within the octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi.
And finally, detractors are not silenced, but directed to withhold writing that stirs contention over frequent communoion. I imagine this was difficult to swallow:
9. Finally, after the publication of this Decree, all ecclesiastical writers are to cease from contentious controversy concerning the dispositions requisite for frequent and daily Communion.
All this having been reported to His Holiness, Pope Pius X, by the undersigned Secretary of the Sacred Congregation in an audience held on December 17, 1905, His Holiness ratified this Decree, confirmed it and ordered its publication, anything to the contrary notwithstanding. He further ordered that it should be sent to all local Ordinaries and regular prelates, to be communicated by them to their respective seminaries, parishes, religious institutes, and priests; and that in their report on the state of their dioceses or institutes they should inform the Holy See concerning the execution of the prescriptions therein enacted.
Given at Rome, the 20th day of December, 1905
With this publication centuries of Catholic practice was changed within just a few generations. No Catholic with an adult memory of pre-Sacra Tridentina is now alive. Today’s Catholics only have an experience of it-has-always-been-so. Along with Quam Singulari these two documents opened up an immense opportunity for grace.
I appreciate Liam’s suggestion to look at these two documents. Upon reflection, I see them as less a nod to a distant past and more of an enrichment of perspective. Even if none of us have experienced infrequent Communion, it’s still good to know the Church is a human institution in part, and therefore susceptible to human flaws and the tendency to limit our perspective, not to mention refusals of God’s offered grace. I leave off for your final comments.
Two heavily footnoted sections are careful to describe the catechetical ministry of a bishop:
222. The Second Vatican Council gave much importance to the proclamation and transmission of the Gospel in the episcopal ministry. “Among the principal duties of Bishops, that of preaching the Gospel excels”. (Lumen Gentium 25; cf. Christus Dominus 12a; Evangelii Nuntiandi 68c) In carrying out this task, Bishops are, above all, “heralds of the faith”, (Lumen Gentium 25) seeking new disciples for Jesus Christ, and “authentic teachers”, (Lumen Gentium 25) transmitting the faith to be professed and lived to those entrusted to their care. Missionary proclamation and catechesis are two closely united aspects of the prophetic ministry of Bishops. To perform this duty Bishops receive “the charism of truth”. (Dei Verbum 8) The Bishops are “beyond all others the ones primarily responsible for catechesis and catechists par excellence”. (Catechesi Tradendae 63b) In the Church’s history the preponderant role of great and saintly Bishops is evident. Their writings and initiatives mark the richest period of the catechumenate. They regarded catechesis as one of the most fundamental tasks of their ministry. (Cf. Catechesi Tradendae 12a)
223. This concern for catechetical activity will lead the Bishop to assume “the overall direction of catechesis” (Catechesi Tradendae 63c) in the particular Church, which implies among other things:
– that he ensure effective priority for an active and fruitful catechesis in his Church “putting into operation the necessary personnel, means and equipment, and also financial resources”; (Catechesi Tradendae 63c; canon law 775 § 1)
– that he exercise solicitude for catechesis by direct intervention in the transmission of the Gospel to the faithful, and that he be vigilant with regard to the authencity of the faith as well as with regard to the quality of texts and instruments being used in catechesis; (Cf. Catechesi Tradendae 63c; canon law 823 § 1)
– “that he bring about and maintain… a real passion for catechesis, a passion embodied in a pertinent and effective organization”, (Catechesi Tradendae 63c) out of a profound conviction of the importance of catechesis for the Christian life of the diocese;
– that he ensure “that catechists are adequately prepared for their task, being well instructed in the doctrine of the Church and possessing both a practical and theoretical knowledge of the laws of psychology and educational method”; (Christus Dominus 14b; canon law 780)
– that he establish an articulated, coherent and global programme in the Diocese in order to respond to the true needs of the faithful: it should be integrated into the diocesan pastoral plan and co-ordinated with the programmes of the Episcopal Conference.
A few things stand out for me:
- This teaching role is a responsibility of the office, not a right achieved by their selection.
- The GDC continues to hammer away at the evangelical quality of catechesis, and bishops are seen to be on the front lines of this evangelical ministry. How that takes shape in a modern diocese may well be a challenge. Are we looking at the example of, say, a Fulton Sheen, who inspired a few high-profile celebrities to switch to Catholicism. We know he also inspired countless others through his radio and television ministries, too. Does it require a television magnetism or even a sense of friendly joviality? Does the ordinary bishop have a prayer? (A clue?)
- That five point program in GDC 223 should be a benchmark for catechetical activity in a diocese. This being a universal document, do you suppose bishops and their catechetical offices use it?
You have an interesting choice for this eight-nine pairing today: possibly the most programmed English-language congregational hymn on December 25th (but it can do double duty in Latin) and a sequence which finds most of its voice outside the Eucharistic liturgy.
Stabat refers to “standing,” and while this might mean a nativity hymn (Stabat Mater Speciosa), for clarity’s sake (and popularity), we’ll assume it’s the most commonly used piece, “Stabat Mater Dolorosa,” which we sing in English as “At the cross her station keeping …”
Edward Caswall was part of the Oxford Movement. In 1849, he adapted the Latin original in a somewhat loose way for the hymn we know in the vernacular:
At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.
O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.
This text may be sung on September 15th, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, which you might be surprised to know is a relatively late addition to the Tridentine liturgical calendar. It is still observed today in the reformed liturgy.
The other choice, though centuries younger, has a somewhat misty and complex history. Like the “Stabat Mater,” it began as a Latin hymn. John Francis Wade is the likely composer, and the most common English translation is from another Oxford movement person, Father Frederick Oakeley.
about Todd Flowerday
A Roman Catholic lay person, married (since 1996), with one adopted child (since 2001). I serve in worship and spiritual life in a midwestern university parish.
Neil has been a blogging collaborator for the past several years on Catholic Sensibility. He brings his unique experiences from theology, spirituality, and the ecumenical sphere. Pay special attention to each one of his posts.