Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Change in the Good Friday Prayer

The call from the Bishops of England and Wales that the Good Friday prayer concerning the Jews is quite extraordinary.

It concerns a prayer said in not more than half a dozen churches once a year, and was composed by a still-living Pope.

But even that is not the worst thing. The really worrying thing is the bad theology which underlies the request. The explanatory statement (here) runs as follows: The 1970s prayer reflected the new thinking on the position of Judaism with regards to Catholicism found within Nostra Ætate. This was because Nostra Ætate “acknowledged the unique spiritual bond between Christians and Jews since it was the Jews who first heard the Word of God.” Even St John Paul II had said in 1980 that the covenant had never been revoked. Since the church is giving inconsistent messages the Jewish community is upset, so the new prayer of Pope Benedict XVI should be changed.

Let us leave for a moment that this quote of St John Paul II was made during a speech, and so when he said that the covenant had never been revoked, it has little, unspecified, doctrinal weight. Let us also leave for a moment that if a newer prayer has been issued to replace an older one, then it would seem logical that the newer (Benedict XVI’s) should have priority. If there are mixed messages being given (one of the problems cited by the Bishops), then they should be modified in line with the newer not the older prayer – 1970 out, 2008 in.

But ignoring all this, the truly worrying thing is that this comes from a misreading of Nostra Ætate and the Vatican II documents as a whole. Yes the documents continually stress the close bonds between the Jews and the Church. Yes they are the community who first heard the word of God. But in no place does the Council state or even imply that the message of the Kingdom should not be preached to all people, including the Jews. The forgotten document Ad Gentes is clear on this point.

And what exactly is this covenant that is being appealed to? Which one? Is it one of the Ancient ones of the Old Testament: Sinai, David, Abraham, Adam, Noah, Phineas, the New Covenant? The Old Testament does not speak of ‘the’ covenant, so why is Judaism now to be defined as ‘the people of the covenant’? They aren’t in their own scriptures, they aren’t in the New Testament, they aren’t in the early church, they aren’t in the Vatican II documents.

In trying to avoid charges of supersessionism, the Bishops are proposing an imperialist Christian definition of Judaism which straitjackets it into Christian terms. Oh, and subsumes all of the ‘Jews’ into one undifferentiated lot.

So what are the theological implications of the Bishops’ calls? A dual covenant theology, where one is ‘never revoked’ and the other, in Christ, is the one that we Christians go by? We would have to repudiate Dominus Iesus (2000), ignore Ad Gentes, rewrite the rest of Vatican II, reformulate our Christology and theology of redemption. This is just the beginning. Why should we ignore the covenant with all creation in Noah? How dare we bring the message of Christ to anyone… did not God make them all? Should they not all grow in their revelations of the divine?

Are we really to believe that the Bishops suddenly woke up one morning, seven years after its promulgation and though “wait a minute… there might be a problem with this prayer”. And if not, why have they ignored the deeply seated concerns about the hurt ‘Judaism’ felt for those same seven years?

Or is this internal church politics, where suddenly the Bishops feel brave enough to ask Rome to roll back the theology of Benedict XVI and the use of the Latin Mass? Like some child sneaking into the classroom at the end of the day and scribbling on someone else’s work when the teacher has gone home.

Perhaps this really is out of concern for Jewish/Catholic relations, but the implications are massive. It is based on bad theological foundations and will ultimately lead to more hurt and offense. Bad theology will never lead to good praxis. Bad theology leads to bad situations.


As an aside I wonder which theologians the Bishops consulted. There are few of us in this field. Admittedly I am just a second year PhD student working on ‘Covenantal Theology in Catholic/Jewish relations after Nostra Ætate’ supported by my Catholic Diocese, but hey, what would I know.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Remembrance Sunday

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.

We will remember them.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Poor Guy

Today our country celebrates the burning of a Catholic. The historical situation was one of treason, but its continued celebration was one of anti-Catholicism.

I am fond of Guy Fawkes, my first dry Mass as a seminarian was a requiem for the repose of his soul. And I remember a poem I wrote in my primary school about him:

Under the clock of Big Ben
Lay Guy Fawkes and his men
With one and a half tonnes of dynamite
Guy Fawkes waited until night.

But the cellar was searched the night before
Guy Fawkes' companions watched with awe
Guy Fawkes was placed upon the rack,
They made a plan to rebel back.

Not high art, I know, but I was only nine - give me a break. Funnily though, I have remembered it for 36 years.

So today Lewis will burn an effigy of the Pope (here) to continue the anti-Catholic atmosphere. Actually I hope they do burn an effigy of him. If not, then the Pope is reconciled to the world, accepted by it, and we are no longer counter-cultural and no longer represent Christ.

Burn baby, burn.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Synodality 4

Back to synodality.

What was the Synod on the family doing? I think it might have been one of two things. First it might have been an exercise in bringing to a public forum the thoughts of the Church was a whole: laity, religious, clergy and the Holy Father. I suppose this is why there was a consultation from each Bishop to His diocese. These were brought together by the representatives of the Bishops’ Conferences to the Synod.

Or second perhaps it was a synod of Bishops, who in order to take the temperature of their dioceses, consulted the clergy, religious and laity, and then got together to talk about it.

And the purpose of both of these was to let the Pope know what was going on, so that he could either (i) be informed or (ii) issue a statement. We have seen in the past how this helped Saint John Paul II know what was going on in parts of the world that he didn’t have too much knowledge of, like Asia for example.

If the synod thought it was doing the first of these things (bringing the thoughts of the Church together in the public forum), then there are some practical problems. The most obvious is the question of whether Cardinal Nichols and Bishop Peter Doyle represented the views of the Church in England and Wales. And how did they know our views, and how do we know what they actually said. 

This is the place for wonderful paranoia – however I know that some voices are listened to more than others. If someone is agreeing with you, you rate it much more highly than a voice which is diametrically opposed. That is human nature. Where was I at the synod? Where was my voice? Or yours? Or anyone’s?

It is, I’m afraid the problem of representative democracy. The synod could not possibly be that, and I do not think that it was.

So we are left with the second view – a meeting of Bishops, who, in order to be informed, consulted their clergy, religious and laity. They chose how it was going to be done, and collated the information and used it in whatever manner they wished. It does not matter if they represent anyone’s views. And they do not have to reference either their own people, nor, importantly, their fellow Bishops, who were not chosen for this august honour.

In my opinion, the synod on the Family was essentially a group of Bishops who had been chosen by the Pope to advise/inform him. This was done either through direct Papal choice or by ‘allowing’ Bishops’ Conference to elect from among themselves who was to go to Rome.

We now have to ask if this is synodality…

Monday, 2 November 2015

Pray for the Dead

Memento Mori
On All Souls' Day, remember you obligation to pray for the dead, not just today but throughout the year.

I recommend the Friends of the Suffering Souls, FOSS.

The link is here. Their website says:

Welcome to the website of the Friends of the Suffering Souls, a Catholic Lay Association conducting a perpetual novena of Masses for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
This association was inspired by the 100 consecutive Masses offered for the Holy Souls by the Venerable Archdeacon Cavanagh, Parish Priest of Knock prior to the appearance there of Our Blessed Mother in 1879.
Each member undertakes to arrange at least one Mass each year for our deceased members and for all the Holy Souls.
But you can arrange as many Masses as you wish for this novena.
It is our goal to reach an average of 200 Masses for the holy souls each and every day of the year.
I have been a member for a number of years. You undertake to have a Mass said (in the new form or the Traditional form) at least once a year - they suggest on your birthday, as it is a date that you always remember.

Purgatorial societies were always a part of the life of the Church and are still essential.  There were whole Churches dedicated to it. See here, for example.

Please pray for the souls in purgatory, and have masses said for them. It is the only help that we can now give them.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Synodality 3

So what is this synodality business about anyway?

The term has been used by some as a short hand for ‘the governance of the Church’, and this is, I think, incorrect. People have started to think that synodality can be equated with the way the church should be run. They are confusing synodal governance with synodality.

Synodal governance is exercising authority through synodal means, and rather like democracy, could take many forms. It could be that different constituents come together and vote and that if all of the ‘synods’ agree, then this becomes law. Or that a majority of them do. Synods here are shorthand for ‘groups of people’.

We could put this forward in the following manner that a synod should contain its own type of people – a synod of laity, of religious, of clerics, of Bishops etc. And that they could the generate ideas, correctives, advances, restraints, and that the whole would then function like a well oiled machine.

Or we could have an idea of synodal governance where each synod would comprise all of the elements mentioned above – a synod would have Bishops, clergy, religious, laity and would similarly function to propose certain elements of governance for the people of God.

Of course we would have to remove the bar from governance strictly being limited to the ordained, but that could be done.

We might run into problems of one geographic synod opposing another – what is forbidden in Poland is allowed in England and Wales for example. Or a synod of Bishops opposing a synod of laity.

But of course both of these, I submit, are flawed interpretations of synodality.

Synodality is not about governance. It is not about who rules what and who decides what. In founding the Church, Christ was clear that there were different gifts, different charisms given to different people, and types of people within His Body, which is the Church.

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (I Cor 12)

Governance is a gift of the spirit. It finds its place within synodality. Synodality does not exist to exercise authority any more than the National Health Service exists to have a chief executive, or the UK to have a monarch.

When synodality is deformed simply to talk about who makes decisions, then it is pointless, and rather at odds with our founder, who, let us remember happens to be God.

So are we any closer to knowing what synodality is? And what actually was the synod on the family doing?

Friday, 30 October 2015

Synodality 2

I previously said that synodality as a concept was a little fraught as no one really knows what it is. I stand by that. And also I gave a brief, very brief, overview of what it could mean on a supra-ecclesial level (of how particular churches or groups of churches inter-react). The model which we can see working in the Anglican Communion, of Synodal/democratic governance has led to its inevitable conclusion: to all intents and purposes the destruction of unity, with just a fig leaf of respectability. This is described as the genius of Anglicanism. It is a new thing.

Now, I do not want to bash other Christian communities, so I will leave Anglicanism for a moment, though it can never be taken as a model for Catholicism.

I also had a bit of a swipe at Bishop’s conferences. This is for a specific purpose. If you wish to propose synodality as a vision of the correct interplay of the different groups of the Church, then you have to do it properly.

The image for synodality comes from Eucharistic or Communion Ecclesiology. This uses the picture of the Bishop celebrating Holy Mass, assisted by priests and deacons and the laity taking their place and role in the Eucharistic assembly. Each has their place, and each are needed for the image to be completed. This, I would say, is in accord with documents such as Lumen Gentium §7.

But this is diocesan based, and has nothing to do with Bishops' conferences. If we are to take seriously the idea that my Bishop is a successor of the Apostles, and that as such is a member of the Sacred College which is the continuation of the Apostolic College, and further that he, with me and the deacons, religious and laity make up the image and icon of the Church, then where exactly does a Bishops' Conference fit in? They are not the Apostolic College working together. They are bits of it, not the whole thing. And neither are they the full synodal image of the Church. In fact, they are nothing in Eucharistic or Communion Ecclesiology.

It may be that we want to use Bishop’s Conferences in this way or that, but they are not essential to the Church, either practically or theologically. It may be that they are a way sneaking in localism (heaven forfend!) with this bunch doing this, and that bunch doing that, but if their competency does not have theological roots, and I would strongly argue that they have no theological roots whatsoever, then they should not be left in charge of anything more important than which comics to buy, and whose turn it is to do the washing up.

I find it ironic then, that one of the things which is threatened from this exercise in ‘synodality’ is the strengthening of something which does not exist within it.

More anon…

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Synodality 1

It has been bothering me for quite a while now, that no one actually knows what synodality means. In this VERY interesting interview with Cardinal Pell, here, he says:

Catholicos, a Greek word, means universal, it doesn’t mean continental or regional. Synodality – I’m not quite sure what it means when it’s applied to the whole of Church life as distinct from the existence of a synod like this. But these things are to be the activities that are to continue to flow along.

I find this worrying, because Cardinal Pell is an informed intelligent man. Some of the others who graced the scene of the Synod, I fear, are neither so well informed nor intelligent. So if Pell didn’t know what synodality is, who exactly did?

This is important as this was what was supposedly going on. Just because they met in a thing called a ‘synod’ does not mean that they were participating in synodality. And just because they said ‘we’re acting synodically’ similarly does not mean that they are. Me and a few mates can turn up to a parliament and say that we’re acting democratically, but we could just be having a game of Poker, a few beers and a packet of crisps. The meeting and the words do not indicate what was actually going on.

So what is synodality. Well, as a callow youth, I wrote a thesis on it. Although you can buy a copy, here, I do not really recommend you do, it is extremely dull (get the one on confession instead, here). The only reasonable definition of it I came across was from ARCIC The Gift of Authority, 1999

In each local church all the faithful are called to walk together in Christ. The term synodality (derived from syn-hodos meaning “common way”) indicates the manner in which believers and churches are held together in communion as they do this. It expresses their vocation as people on the Way (cf. Acts 9.2) to live, work and journey together in Christ who is the Way (cf. Jn 14.6)

So synodality is the way in which the people of God journey along the Way to Him who is the Way. It is the interplay between the different people/roles/elements in the church and between local churches. You can easily see how this definition comes from the Protestant Anglican worldview. And you can see how it can easily be dangerous to a Catholic sensibility. 

Here, the danger is in the local/universal church relationship. For Anglicans there is neither need nor, in some cases desire, for close unity, except in name. Thus you can have all being in an “Anglican Communion” looking to Canterbury as a See that once held the whole thing together. But let’s be honest, when you have the position of one bit of the Anglican Communion rejecting the ministry of another bit, and that being accepted, you have to ask in what meaningful sense there is unity. Is it simply a shared history?

I would say that this ‘supra-national’ use of synodality cannot have any meaning if the local churches are equal in authority, and here we see the age old danger of Kaspar’s priority of the local church, wonderfully squashed by Ratzinger/Benedict, but rather like Japanese Knotweed, with deep pernicious roots. It’s evil daughter is Bishop’s Conferences with doctrinal power.

By the way, why should it be Bishop’s conferences? In the image of synodality, which I’ll look at later, the overriding icon is the Bishop celebrating Holy Mass, surrounded by Priests, Deacons, and the Laity. Synodality explicitly takes its image from the diocesan church. Nothing at all to do with Bishop’s Conferences. Indeed I would go so far as to say that they are alien and poisonous to the very idea of synodality.

But we cannot have a bunch of churches with no authority structure, as this would make 'synodality' not work. Imagine a parliament without a speaker, image a family where everyone has an equal voice, and the three children decide to spend the mortgage money on sweets and comics. This is the reason why the Anglicans are currently drifting further and further apart. Synodality on this level demands that something holds it together.

If synodality is the correct interplay within visible elements making up the Church, then the role of the Pope is essential.

So, is this what the Synod was doing? In a word, no. And in a word, it was getting there. 

To be continued...

Monday, 26 October 2015

A visit to Ryhope


In my role as 'random priest always willing to cover a Latin Mass at the drop of a biretta' I found myself in Ryhope in Sunderland to sing Mass last week. The Mass has been going there for twenty years and is a good and holy thing.

The Church is pretty spiffy also.

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