The Synod Fathers Speak 1

window from inside

The final “small” document from the extraordinary synod is out, in English.  Another, longer form, is due out later. That presumably will contain “proper” language on this and that.

I found the small version heartening and appropriate. Leading off with “We, Synod Fathers” is accurate.  But there is more to a family than the Father. And more to Church than bishops.

As I wasn’t in attendance, and I’m not sure just what the impact of lay testimony was, I will offer a cautious criticism that more voices need to speak and be heard. Families consist mainly of husbands and wives. Our sacrament is at the center of the family.

Voices of adult children (the priests and bishops) are important and must be heard. But their experience is limited to being observers, and in a way, outsiders to the graced inner life of spouses.

Let’s read:

We, Synod Fathers, gathered in Rome together with Pope Francis in the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, greet all families of the different continents and in particular all who follow Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We admire and are grateful for the daily witness which you offer us and the world with your fidelity, faith, hope, and love.

Each of us, pastors of the Church, grew up in a family, and we come from a great variety of backgrounds and experiences. As priests and bishops we have lived alongside families who have spoken to us and shown us the saga of their joys and their difficulties.

The preparation for this synod assembly, beginning with the questionnaire sent to the Churches around the world, has given us the opportunity to listen to the experience of many families. Our dialogue during the Synod has been mutually enriching, helping us to look at the complex situations which face families today.

These things strike me in these first three paragraphs:

  • I appreciate gratitude. God knows I try to cultivate it in myself. I also feel grateful that the world’s bishops are spending time and effort, and if one believes the blogosphere, their reputations to invest time in assisting in this most blessed sacrament and the families that spring from it.
  • It is true that every cleric was once a child in a family, and later entered into an adult relationship with parents. It is not quite the same as the sacrifice we husbands and wives embrace. I would not presume to say what it is like to preside over the Eucharistic assembly during the anaphora–on a daily basis. Most priests and all Catholic bishops today are spectators to a degree, participants with a perspective common to close friends, adult children, and counsellors. Often experienced? Yes. Insights to offer with perspective? Certainly. I would trust a man who has been a parish pastor much more than academics, chancery officials, seminary staff, or others who have insulated themselves from preparing women and men for marriage, witnessing the commitment, and being there when things begin to go wrong.
  • The bishops acknowledge the importance of the pre-synod efforts as well as the lay speakers. We have helped them in this effort. I feel grateful for that.


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DPPL 98: The Advent Wreath

STA altar at night smallThe most recognizable piece of home piety that has translated to the Advent church is a certain circle of greens with accompanying candles:

98. Placing four candles on green fronds has become a symbol of Advent in many Christian home, especially in the Germanic countries and in North America.
The Advent wreath, with the progressive lighting of its four candles, Sunday after Sunday, until the Solemnity of Christmas, is a recollection of the various stages of salvation history prior to Christ’s coming and a symbol of the prophetic light gradually illuminating the long night prior to the rising of the Sun of justice (cf. Ml 3,20; Lk 1,78).

I have seen many variations on this theme in churches over the years. Perhaps the most impressive was an eight-foot plywood circle wrapped in chicken wire, hung on a wall, and stuffed with evergreens. Candles were in stands in front of it. In other parishes, I’ve seen a huge wagon wheel used, also just a tracing of greens on the floor in a large narthex. And of course, dining room-sized pieces nudged into large churches.

The way the liturgy stands today, the wreath is optional for Advent, not required. Ever been in a church that opted out?

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

Posted in 2007 Aparecida document, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents | 1 Comment

Mercy and What? Envy?

Father Dwight Longenecker is a staple at Patheos and here and there on the right-leaning internet. I noticed today that Crux reprinted his essay from Crisis earlier this week. When I visit his site occasionally, Fr Longenecker strikes me as truly attempting to absorb the new tone in the Catholic Church. During the previous era, I thought him a bit stuffy and SCGS* in approach.

It’s not my style to fisk a person’s essay and construct an imaginary conversation like I was editing tape for personal amusement. I’d like to peel out one statement and reflect a bit:

I know the Synod on the Family is an attempt to make the Church more compassionate and caring, but with respect, this is not best done at the Vatican or diocesan level but on the parish level.

I tend to agree with this. But I suspect Fr Longenecker has been a Catholic and a priest long enough to know it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

One ministry incident from a number of years ago: a lesbian couple requested baptism for their infant. My pastor at the time contacted the canon law expert in the diocese as well as the bishop and received the go-ahead. Still, there were people fussing on the fringes of this ministry. I was not privy to the conversations with the complainers, but I know there were more than one, and that my boss devoted some time attempting to defuse the issue.

In the years 1978-2013, mercy on the parish level was occasionally costly. The Temple Police had decibels and clout, as often as not, it seemed.

I think the effort is to accomplish a more evangelical and welcoming ministry, ironically enough, with respect. The Gospel passage from a few weeks ago comes to mind as insightful of this situation when the landowner confronted the grumblers:

My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:13b-16)

Those who are looking for some heartening word from Pope Francis are forgetting the “deal” they made. It’s not the same deal sinners made or have yet to make. It’s not the same deal the elder brother holds. It’s a part of God’s topsy-turvy way of gathering as many as possible into the Reign.

I suggest we get used to it and enjoy the ride.

I sure hope we keep the door closed on the Temple Police. They drain away energy. They have their covenant. And that seekers and non-believers and sinners have a different way to God isn’t bothersome to me, nor should it be bothersome to any other believer.

After all, God is free to dispense mercy as wished, right? Or is envy at work here?

* Small church getting smaller

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DPPL 96-97: In Advent

STA altar at night smallToday’s two sections preface the specifics that follow (98-105) for the season prior to Christmas. First, some definitions:

96. Advent is a time of waiting, conversion and of hope:
• waiting-memory of the first, humble coming of the Lord in our mortal flesh; waiting-supplication for his final, glorious coming as Lord of History and universal Judge;
• conversion, to which the Liturgy at this time often refers quoting the prophets, especially John the Baptist, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3,2);
• joyful hope that the salvation already accomplished by Christ (cf. Rm 8, 24-25) and the reality of grace in the world, will mature and reach their fulness, thereby granting us what is promised by faith, and “we shall become like him for we shall see him as he really is” (1 John 3,2).

This is as good a summary of Advent I’ve seen–outside of the poetic. The Scriptures addressing Christ’s coming are not cited here, but are known enough to most readers here. The conversion and renewal aspects are a tradition. Not quite the same tenor as Lent, but significant and substantial nonetheless.

The present reality is that Christ has already come, and has already offered salvation. Those passages of hope are well placed throughout Advent as a reminder for those inclined to discouragement. They are also fitting for the final days before Christmas–the “O” days, plus the fourth Sunday.

97. Popular piety is particularly sensitive to Advent, especially when seen as the memory of the preparation for the coming of the Messiah. The Christian people are deeply conscious of the long period of expectation that preceded the birth of our Saviour. The faithful know that God sustained Israel’s hope in the coming of the Messiah by the prophets.

I think this assessment is spot-on. If Catholics know the Scriptures at all, they are relatively familiar with the passages that anticipate and celebrate the Messiah.

Popular piety is not unaware of this extraordinary event. Indeed, it is awestruck at the prospect of the God of glory taking flesh in the womb of the humble and lowly Virgin Mary. The faithful are particularly sensitive to the difficulties faced by the Virgin Mary during her pregnancy, and are deeply moved by the fact that there was no room at the inn for Joseph and Mary, just as she was about to give birth to the Christ child (cf Lk 2,7).
Various expressions of popular piety connected with Advent have emerged throughout the centuries. These have sustained the faith of the people, and from one generation to the next, they have conserved many valuable aspects of the liturgical season of Advent.

Also true. If cultural customs of questionable religious value have overwhelmed Christmas, Advent still has a fairly clear field for itself. The alternative is shopping to extremes, and really: who needs to do that?

We’ll get to the specifics of Advent in the next several days. If you need to access the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy it is online at the Vatican site.

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Aparecida 83 – 84 – Biodiversity and Native Peoples

As the bishops analyze the reality facing the Church, they turn to issues related to the environment, but in a very different manner than Western approaches.

First of all, in paragraph 83, they relate the question of bio-diversities to the socio-diversity of the peoples and cultures in Latin America and the Caribbean, noting the rich traditional knowledge of the native peoples.

 Latin American is the Continent that holds one of the greatest biodiversities on the planet and a rich socio-diversity represented by its peoples and cultures. Those peoples have a great store of traditional knowledge of the sustainable use of natural resources, and of the medicinal value of plants and other living organisms, many of which form the base of their economy.

But they note the controversy generated by patenting practices of some industries that threaten the lives of the native peoples.

Such knowledge is currently being subjected to unlawful intellectual appropriation, when it is patented by pharmaceutical and biogenetics industries, generating vulnerability to the farmers and their families who depend on these resources for their survival.

The bishops are very concerned about the denial participation to native peoples in decisions about biodiversity and nature. In paragraph 84, they bluntly note:

The traditional communities have been practically excluded from decisions on the wealth of biodiversity and nature. Nature has been, and continues to be, assaulted. The land has been plundered. Water is being treated as though it were merchandise that could be traded by companies, and has been transformed into a good for which powerful nations compete. A major example of this situation is the Amazon.

Here is an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Are Conservatives In Retreat?

As a parent, I notice avoidance. Laundry piles up. Dishes pile up. Homework missing, the email report cites. The young miss doesn’t seem communicative. Sometimes there are good reasons. Sometimes it’s the blame game. On occasion, she just messed up.

I tend to trust a veteran Vatican observer like John Thavis. When he says a synod is big news, I’m inclined to believe. And since I don’t get most of my news filtered through secular corporations, I also tend to trust what I read in the Catholic media outlets. I also pay attention when people are in avoidance.

On Monday’s “earthquake,” the reading of the relatio, the mid-meeting report, Mr Thavis wrote:

The media recognized in the text a profoundly new pastoral approach to a whole range of marriage and family issues, and in particular a welcoming tone regarding homosexuals. The bishops in the hall recognized the same thing, and not all of them were pleased. That’s why the synod hall quickly lit up like a pinball machine with questions and calls for clarification.

Maybe it was a hijacking. But probably not:

And after the relatio was read aloud, there was strong applause in the synod hall.

Part of the summary:

I think the alarm being expressed in some church circles over the synod’s direction reflects similar unease over some of Pope Francis’ statements during his first 18 months. When the pope said last year: “A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will – well, who am I to judge him?” we heard the same kind of reaction: “no news here,” “the church is not changing its doctrine” and “pay no attention to those newspaper articles.” By now, it should be clear that the pope is proposing a paradigm shift in the church’s style of evangelizing, one that favors outreach and dialogue over doctrinal identity, and he wants the Synod of Bishops on board. This is news, and it deserves attention by anyone interested in the Catholic Church.

I think this is right.

I think this synod is the biggest church meeting since session 4 of Vatican II. Maybe the USCCB could take notice. All they need is a change in tone on sex abuse, and its cover-up–I think the message would get out.

For many years, conservatives have enjoyed the ability to attach mood and tone to doctrinal pronouncements. But I think we are on the cusp of something different. Few conservatives I know can do joy. Maybe no conservative in the US is left that can tap into it at all. Politically, the message is grandstanding on bad news, conspiracies, and a dark future. Churchfolk are coopted quite often by the tenor of society. They can’t help it. Especially when they engage secular news outlets of choice.

When a kid doesn’t get her way, she might complain. The other parent is attempted. In my household, the young miss knows the rule: two yesses, one no. I am sure we are the occasional topic of conversation with her peers. How unfair! How ignorant! How they don’t understand!

The synod seems no different, according to Catholic bloggerdom. There’s no change in doctrine, but there’s a lot of activity on the net, or on EWTN news pieces. Let’s be heartened by that: conservatives are getting heard. They just aren’t getting their way. And since doctrine has gone untouched, let’s be clear: they disapprove of the change in tone. That’s what’s going on. Disapproval of their private magisterium. Nothing to do with Christ.

My take: let ‘em stay on the front porch for awhile. Clearly, they’re still within shouting distance of the house. But they don’t seem to have much influence on the mood these days, except maybe their own.

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DPPL 95: Sunday

STA altar at night smallBefore launching into Advent, the Church devotes some “ink” to the Eighth Day. First, a reminder that Sunday is primary. Why? Because it is, by definition, a festive observance with Jesus Christ at the root. Each Sunday is an Easter:

95. Since the “Lord’s day” is the “primordial feast” and “basis and centre of the liturgical year”(SC 106; Roman (Liturgical) Calendar (1969) 4), it cannot be subordinated to popular piety. Hence, pious exercises whose main chronological reference point is Sunday, should not be encouraged.

How to interpret “encouragement”? Divine Mercy, one of the most popular innovations of the past decades? We’ll look at that observance a bit later in this series.

It is possible to “transfer” celebrations–including sometimes the Mass–to Sunday:

For the pastoral good of the faithful, it is, however, licit to take up on the Sundays “per annum” those celebrations of the Lord, or in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Saints which occur during the week and which are particularly significant in popular piety, provided that they have precedence over Sundays in the tables published with the Roman calendar(Roman (Liturgical) Calendar 58).

There are a few of these that come to mind: parish patronal feasts, parish dedication anniversaries, and a small group of Masses for various needs and occasions. As for pious observances that do not rise to the level of a solemnity, I suppose local judgments could be made for observance outside of Mass. A working neighborhood might observe some festivity connected to Our Lady of Guadalupe on a Sunday near 12 December.

St John Paul offered a caution (which we covered here). My sense of the cited document was more along the lines of non-religious “invasions,” things like Super Bowl Sunday, and the like.

Given that popular or cultural traditions can sometimes be invasive of the Sunday celebration and deprive it of its Christian character, “There is a need for special pastoral attention to the many situations where there is a risk that the popular and cultural traditions of a region may intrude upon the celebration of Sundays and other liturgical feast-days, mingling the spirit of genuine Christian faith with elements which are foreign to it and may distort it. In such cases, catechesis and well-chosen pastoral initiatives need to clarify these situations, eliminating all that is incompatible with the Gospel of Christ. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that these traditions — and, by analogy, some recent cultural initiatives in civil society — often embody values which are not difficult to integrate with the demands of faith. It rests with the discernment of Pastors to preserve the genuine values found in the culture of a particular social context and especially in popular piety, so that liturgical celebration — above all on Sundays and holy days — does not suffer but rather may actually benefit”.(Dies Domini 80)

So what about observances like Catechetical Sunday, Priesthood Sunday, Mission Sunday, and the like? Do parishes and dioceses do their best to keep the perspective urged here? Does it make us more ready or more reticent to add future observances in our communities?

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

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