Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Commentary on the Burbling Church

It's my belief that men are in a fallen condition and that, even after baptism, the effects of their prior state remain in the form of disordered passions, faulty reasoning, and a general disinclination toward sanctity. Therefore, a Catholic pastorage which tailors its witness to a lowest common-denominator faithfulness will see that common-denominator sink lower, and lower, and ever lower, until all Catholic life becomes utterly two-dimensional, a notional dot on a hypothetical plane, incapable of being seen by one's neighbors or even one's self. Just about every week, my Diocesan newspaper does its best to confirm my opinion by printing something that tries to talk down the high truths of the Church to the level of an Everyman who is, apparently, conceived of as a kind of illiterate Unitarian whose spiritual aspirations are limited to being attentive all the way through the opening prayer at a Kiwanis lunch. The result is the presentation of Catholicism as a pallid, nonsensical thing, an ecclesiastical Marienbad of Silliness where people can languish in tepid baths of utter bafflement, breathe deep the maudlin airs of bourgeois self-conceit, and nourish a febrile sentimentality with whole-grain nothingness. It bothers me. It bothers me because I dislike mediocrity with a special vehemence, since it's a fault to which I am particularly prone. It bothers me since I know people who have left the Church because, frankly, they've come to the incorrect opinion that banality is all the Church can offer a man who seeks his God and Lord. It bothers me that great saints and churchmen are likely being stifled in their cribs, so to speak, by a smothering blanket of burbling thrown over their eyes and ears through the well-intentioned arrogance of an elite that thinks its arcani disciplina can't be shared with the common herd of communicants. Ignorance is strength, you know, so long as it makes everyone else weak. Rather than continue speaking to the newsprint, disturbing my wife and my dog by shouting paragraph numbers from Lamentabili Sane, I'm going to run written commentary on these painfully-obtuse items, a commentary on the Burbling Church.

The first installment is a response to an article by Sister Genevieve Glen, OSB, entitled "Pilate's Question: What is Truth?" It was distributed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops / Catholic News Service and was run in my newspaper and, so far as I can tell from a brief internet search, published in the Texas Catholic ("The Oldest Catholic Newspaper in Texas"), the The Catholic Review and by the Archdiocese of Seattle and the Diocese of Albany. Sister Glen has written several books about Catholicism, and while I wouldn't doubt they're very learned and edifying, this particular column fit right in with the general trend I've noted above. Sister Glen's opinions are in blue. My commentary is in black. The entire text of Sister's article can be found here.

Most of us probably would begin by saying something like, "Well, a truth is something that states a fact." . . . This kind of truth describes a statement that matches objective reality. It can often, though not always, be tested and proven . . . Religious truths expand this category. They describe the match between a statement and a reality in which we believe but which we cannot necessarily test or prove by some observable measure.

Well, I'd be more comfortable if we were definitely describing religious truths as facts. Now, I realize that religious truths may be facts which aren't susceptible to scientific proof, or that they might not be as susceptible to scientific proof as we might wish, but still I think we're OK describing them as being facts which are as real as the ones we have proven with a lot of scientific evidence. Science itself has a lot of room for facts like that. There was a time when scientists were positive that there had to be black holes, but couldn't prove it by pointing to an actual black hole. And sometimes scientists knew only part of a fact, like the ones who thought water ran downhill because it was "seeking its natural place" in the order of the created universe.

We shouldn't forget that sometimes our religious knowledge is as certain as any kind of secular knowledge you want to name. Take the life of Jesus Christ, for example. He lived. He really, actually did. We know it because the Gospels record His life. Can't believe the Evangelists? Say they had a bias that caused them to invent the Christ of the Gospels so they could get themselves killed witnessing to Him? That's OK too, since non-Christian writers of Jesus' day also confirm His life. We have as much reason to believe Jesus lived on earth during the first century A.D. as we do to believe that Hannibal crossed the Alps and fought the Romans. People who don't believe a man named Jesus lived in the first century A.D. and became the focus of a religious movement we call "Christianity" are as reasonable as people who won't believe in Alexander the Great because they've never met him and the histories of his life are all part of a conspiracy by Alexander the Great fans.

It is true that sometimes our religious knowledge is like those black holes which "must" exist and just haven't been identified or explained to a skeptic's satisfaction. As Fulton Sheen once observed, it's a queer mind that thinks the existence of natural laws proves there's no such thing as a natural lawmaker. "The same Holy mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason : ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made." Vatican Council I, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Chapter 2, Section 1. If you're not comfortable thinking in terms of the Magisterium, try Psalm 34:8: "O taste and see that the LORD is good," or Romans 1:20 "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse." Are those verses just be "statements" about what St. Paul and King David believed but couldn't prove? St. Paul and King David didn't think so. Were they crazy? Or just dumb?

It's also true that sometimes our religious knowledge is partial, like the idea about water that coincides with (but doesn't relate) the whole story in all its detail. People once read Genesis quite literally to require 144 hours for the creation of the universe. (They had forgotten that the early Church fathers didn't require that at all). Now we know that God probably didn't take 144 hours to create the universe, but the truth of Genesis that God did, in fact, create it still remains a challenge for your ordinary God-denying scientist -- "So, Professor, isn't it odd that Genesis records God saying "let there be light," and by the way what caused the Big Bang?" And other times our knowledge is a special gift that goes way beyond what reason can show us or science prove to us. The Trinity is like that, a divine "family secret" that's given only for love's sake. But all of these things are still real, actual, hard facts.

I hope Sister realizes that there aren't any faithful people in Heaven. At least, not any people who still need their faith, however faithfulness was essential to their getting to Heaven. In Heaven, we will see God directly and actually as He is, and have as much proof of His existence as we could possibly ever need or want. The Second Coming is going to be the most wonderful thing in human history, but since "now we see through a glass, darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12) I can say that with respect to doubts, questions and disbelief the parousia's going to resemble the scene in Annie Hall where Alvy and a self-appointed expert end up arguing about Marshall McLuhan's theories while waiting in a theater lobby:
MAN IN LINE: Wait a minute, why can't I give my opinion? It's a free country!

ALVY: . . . I mean, aren't you ashamed to pontificate like that? And-and the funny part of it is . . . you don't know anything about Marshall McLuhan's work!

MAN IN LINE: Wait a minute! Really? Really? I happen to teach a class at Columbia called "TV Media and Culture"! So I think that my insights into Mr. McLuhan-well, have a great deal of validity.

ALVY: Oh, do ya?


ALVY: Well, that's funny, because I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here. So ... so, here, just let me-I mean, all right. Come over here ... a second.
[Alvy gestures, and Marshall McLuhan suddenly comes out from behind some plastic ferns and a stand-up movie poster].


ALVY (To McLuhan) Tell him.

MCLUHAN (To the man in line) I heard what you were saying. You know nothing of my work, and how you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.

ALVY: (To the camera) Boy, if life were only like this!

Of course, life is like that, just like it -- only it's going to take awhile before the Ultimate Author steps out and explains to all the skeptics, doubters, and unbelievers that they know nothing and that their tenures and publications were merely tributes to human folly. We are really, truly, honest-to-golly going to know everything it's possible for us to know because God will always be right there with us, in person, face-to-face, showing us reality, forever and ever. St. Paul says right after his comments about seeing now darkly, but "then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Cor. 13).

Given all that, I don't know what to make of Sister's claim that religious truths are statements that "match" what "we believe" about reality but can't "prove." I think that if it means anything, it means that religious truths aren't really true. "Jesus is God" is a religious statement. If we go around saying that it matches a reality that "we believe," but which we can't prove by anything we learn, observe, or experience, our statement's really more of a suggestion. If we think about our faith that way, the Gospel testimonies of the Resurrection and the Ascension, like the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus, can't add anything to our faith. If, when we say "Jesus is God" we mean that we believe it but can't prove it, then everyone who says "Jesus is God" is saying the same thing -- including the prophets and the evangelists, whose testimonies are just more statements that matched what they believed but couldn't prove.

St. Thomas the Apostle might have a problem with that, since Jesus stood before him and invited Thomas to put his fingers right straight into Jesus' sacred wounds. (John 20:17) At least five hundred other Christians would have the same problem, since they personally saw Jesus after his Resurrection. (1 Cor. 15:6) Insulated from their experiences by two millennia, we might be tempted to call these accounts "statements" that "match" what we believe but can't prove, but should we give in to that temptation? It can't be "turtles all the way down" --- somewhere, sometime, someone's either got to be describing real facts or imagining things. The antiquity of accounts about Jesus isn't any reason to discount them; no one claims the statement, "Teddy Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill," can't be proved just because none of the Rough Riders are alive to tell us so. We can observe the truth of that statement by looking at the credible historical records which record the Rough Riders' charge and the name of their commanding officer So why shouldn't we give the Gospels the same weight? Why should we think that the Gospels are just "statements" that match we "believe" but can't prove?

Belief in God and the Catholic Church results from human reason firing on all cylinders -- which means, I might add, with the aid of grace and revelation. We weren't given reason so that we could puzzle our way into Heaven like scientists trying to find out about dinosaurs. But that doesn't mean our reason has no role to play in bringing us to faith or keeping us there. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind. Luke 10:27 (KJV). Why would God give us reason, and order us to use it, if by it we couldn't know anything real about Him or His world? Faith and reason aren't things that operate like booster stages on rockets, with reason burning "just so long" and then dropping away as faith fires up to take us to our destination. Reason and faith are like two blast nozzles on the same stage of the rocket, each contributing its unique load of thrust as the whole hurtles along the course. We'll stop having faith in Heaven, but we'll keep on burning an exhaustible load of reason, observation, and revelation.

For example, if I say "God exists," I can back my words up with a certain amount of logic, and I can appeal to the authority of Scripture, but I can't actually produce evidence to convince a determined atheist.

Yes indeed -- that's the difference between thinking of the Catholic faith as a description of reality and thinking of it as a mutual truth-commitment to a set of statements we believe but can't really prove. If the Catholic faith actually describes reality, then whether our determined atheist is so blinded by his passions that he won't accept the teleological and causal arguments for God's existence has nothing to do with whether those arguments (which depend on scientifically-demonstrable facts, by the way) are true. It just means our atheist is, to use St. Paul's phrase "without excuse," no matter how much he keeps insisting that he actually has an excuse. But if the statement "God exists" is a communal truth-commitment that may correspond to a reality we can't prove, then we really do need our atheist to agree in order for the statement to be a meaningful connection between him and us. If we admit that our statements about what we believe can't have a meaningful connection with people who reject them, isn't that the same thing as admitting our faith can't be true until everyone approves of it?

What we call "the truths of our faith," then, are statements about reality as we believe it to be, on the authority of the community and tradition to which we have given our allegiance.

I think that when you locate all religious certainty in the authority of a community, what you call "truths of our faith" becomes the heresy of Traditionalism: According to traditionalism, human reason is of itself radically unable to know with certainty any truth or, at least, the fundamental truths of the metaphysical, moral, and religious order. Hence our first act of knowledge must be an act of faith, based on the authority of revelation. This revelation is transmitted to us through society, and its truth is guaranteed by tradition. . . See, e.g., Catholic Encyclopedia, Traditionalism, available here. The problem with Traditionalism, as the Catholic Encyclopedia points out, is that in order for an authority to actually be an authority, it has to be competent, legitimate, and valid. Otherwise it's no more of an "authority" than my puppy, Auggie. I don't believe Auggie when he insists on a divine right to two sausage treats if he comes when called. Why? Because he's not a competent, legitimate, and valid source of information about what his rights are. (If he were, then I'd also be sitting on the floor while he watched TV on the couch). If, as you're say, authority and tradition are our only source of truth, then how can we know that the Church is a valid, competent and legitimate authority about what tradition is or should be? Unless we say that the Church's identity can be known by observation and reason, as well as grace, and that the knowledge conferred thereby is true knowledge of reality, we have only two possible answers.

The first answer is that the Church is a competent, valid, and legitimate religious authority because she says so. But John Ankerberg and Bob Jones also exercise religious authority and they also say that the Catholic Church's claim to authority is a fraud. So the first answer is not really much of an answer at all: The only way to identify John Paul II, and not Bob Jones, as a valid religious authority is to use some sort of "supra-authority" that can judge between them, and the same problems would still attend the task of identifying that "supra authority" as well. (This gives an apparent edge to people like John Ankerberg and Bob Jones, who claim that they have no authority, they're just telling you what God says in the Bible. That's an unintended sleight-of-hand on their part, since they really do believe that their teaching comes straight from Scripture without any human involvement. But McLuhan was right -- the medium is the message -- and so no one notices that Protestant confessions contradict each other on all kinds of vital matters because no one tries to join eight Protestant churches simultaneously).

The second possible answer is that the Catholic Church is a "religious authority" for some reason that doesn't involve observeable reality. In other words, we could just say that the Church is a religious authority because we've decided she should be. Sister suggests as much when she locates the Church's authority in our "allegiance" rather than in the structure of the universe. Locating the origin of authority (as distinct from the means of exercising authority) in popular allegiance is called positivism. The American legal establishment's fascination with positivism is what got us Roe v. Wade. No one wanted to obey the old laws which said we can't kill babies, and so no one thought those old laws had an enduring authority to which our personal "allegiance" was actually irrelevant. So Justice Brennan (a Catholic) and six of his Supreme Court brethren made some "statements about reality as we believe it to be" regarding unborn babies not being people, and ten thousand abortion clinics opened their doors "on the authority of the community and tradition to which we have given our allegiance." (Justice Byron White, an Episcopalian, and Justice William Rehnquist, a Lutheran, dissented in Roe). Positivism grounds authority on a democratic consensus ("Crucify him! Crucify him!") or the will of the stronger ("What is truth?"). Positivism is an outward lamb of legal process and civil order that inwardly rages with every dark and terrible lust known to man. Ground authority on "allegiance"? Not if my life depended on it, which actually it might since there's a family story that my great-great grandmother was a Jew.

It sounds like a paradox to modern people, but any authority worthy of the name depends on only one person's assent -- God's. Jesus was pretty direct when He spoke to Pilate about that: "Pilate therefore said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?' Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above . . .'" John 19:10-11 (RSV). For the Catholic Church, John Ankerberg, Bob Jones, or the Third Reich to have real authority, God would have had to confer it on them: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." Romans 13:1 (RSV). Is this a formula for dictatorship? Do we have to obey Hitler, revive prima nocte, or outlaw interracial dating? No, because God grants authority for His purposes, not ours, and we must always "obey God rather than men." Acts 5:29 (RSV). Yes, this opens up a whole can of worms about when to obey human authority and when to obey divine teaching. But it looks like our Lord wanted that can opened: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Mark 12:17(RSV). That was a kindness, really -- it sure beats the alternative, which is mindlessly worshiping Caesar and ignoring God altogether. I'd rather have that can of worms than have to ground my salvation on the confused marriage of popular consensus and ipse dixit offered by Sister's definition of ecclesiastical authority.

I'm wondering if Sister's way of thinking has anything to do with the phenomenon of young Catholics who go through year upon tedious year of CCD and become Protestants the minute they start getting serious about religion. First off, it's hard to think of God's existence as just a mutual truth statement you accept from a community you like a lot while simultaneously believing He is strong, terrible, and wonderful enough to make immutable laws that dictate the terms of your own happiness. It would be much easier to think that He's an easygoing sort who's more eager for your approval of His marginalized and unverifiable set of "faith statements." It would therefore, be much easier to sink into worldly chaos and spiritual misery that is far more terrible, and far more real in experience, than all those "faith statements" which might or might not have been true in the first place. Imagine the grateful shock which such a mis-educated Catholic must experience when a Protestant enters his personal abyss of suffering and insists (a) that the Bible is really, actually true; (b) because it's really, actually, written by God Himself; and (c) there is a way to be really and truly happy which involves rejecting everything the Catholic Church teaches. It would be pretty hard for our imaginary Catholic not to accept that without reservation -- and, come to think of it, why shouldn't he accept it? It's not as though Sister's Catholicism is offering something more likely to bring him happiness, or bring him closer to the truth.

We human beings have an ingrained habit of putting our way of seeing reality into words, including religious words, that bind us together and that can be handed on from one generation to the next. As our perception of reality deepens with our experience of life, the words may take on a richer and more subtle reality, which we may express in additional statements.

This whopper, like the one right before it, shows us how Sister's confusing the process of belief with the truth of a belief results in an approach to religion that is entirely subjective, even solipsistic. Of course it's true that human beings often address themselves to observable facts which provide motives of credibility, good reasons for believing something which can finally be accepted by the supernatural grace of faith. So Aristotle looked at the universe and came to the true conclusion that God exists. But he didn't come to the conclusion that this God is a Triune God who became man and died for the salvation of mankind, because that takes (a) revelation, which he didn't have, and (b) supernatural faith, which he wasn't granted. That process of reasoning and response to grace and revelation is what all human beings go through in order to believe that Jesus as God, that the Catholic Church is His Church, that His mother was immaculately conceived, and so on. But collapsing a description about whether, or how, the Catholic faith is true into a description of the human process of knowing and believing the Catholic faith has the Church making up a plastic God who's not really worth knowing. If God is really who the Church says He is, then the reality He created can't become "richer and more subtle." God created the solar system, for example, just as He created it. His act of creation doesn't become "richer and more subtle" just because Bellarmine's happened to read Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World. If God is who the Church says He is, then He doesn't develop, becoming richer and more subtle as the generations pass. What can and does develop is the richness and subtlety of our understanding of God and the reality He's actually created.

That's an important difference. It's the difference between God as a subject and God as an object, between a God we invent and a God we can marry. If men are looking for salvation, then they don't want give allegiance to truth-statements -- they want to find and know the truth Himself. They don't want communal fellowship -- they want saving admission into a heavenly company. They don't want ideas which match their opinions about reality -- they want the real indwelling of an actual divinity. Such men may very well get truth, salvation, and divine indwelling by means of their journeying, communities, and faith statements. But to tell such men that there's no difference between the means and the end is to cripple them, or incline them to leave the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has nothing to offer men who seek a horizontal existence of progressive erudition and comfortable fellowship. She can only feed men who want God Himself. Suggesting otherwise either encourages men to become unworthy of themselves, or to believe that the Church is unworthy of their time.

For example, believers in the first Christian centuries grappled with ways to express their understanding of Jesus Christ because their biblically based beliefs were questioned by new believers whose way of thinking was set out in the categories of Greek philosophy rather than the categories of biblical story theology. One result of centuries of such grappling is the Nicene Creed . . .

Now I think this is very odd indeed. Sister started off with defining faith in a way that based virtually every truth -- from the color of the sky to the existence of God -- on the authority of a community. One would, therefore, anticipate Sister's view of these controversies as the early Christians' involvement with their community's authority when new believers began questioning the community's beliefs. But Sister doesn't say that. Instead, she veers off in another direction, telling us that the real struggle had to do with the early Christians' "biblically-based beliefs." How is it that our Catholic beliefs are based on the authority of a human community, but the early Christians' beliefs were based on something else, namely the Bible? Maybe the Protestants and the skeptics have their finger on the answer when they say the Catholic Church abandoned the Bible's simple perspicacity for the "traditions of men" which, as Sister's already told us, are just statements that the Catholic Church orders us to believe without any proof whatsoever. Have we stopped believing in the Bible, then? If we have, that's yet another reason to reject the Church in favor of something, um, more definite, like the breath of the Holy Spirit in Scripture.

It might come as a shock to Sister that what her readership would call "biblically-based beliefs" -- beliefs held in tandem with a number of writings bound together in a single book whose divine authorship isn't questioned -- were unknown to these "early Christians." They had lots of writings, of course. They had the Old Testament, the Gospel of Luke, St. Paul's letters to the Corinthians, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, the Protovangelium of James . . . . . There were lots of holy books circulating around the Mediterranean world during the first three centuries of Christian history. Some of them, like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Protovangelium, were read in Church just like the Gospels. Others, like the two alleged Gospels of Thomas, the Death of Pilate, and the Dance of Jesus, weren't so popular, although they also had their proponents among "early Christians." The earliest list of "biblical" books is the Muratorian Canon which dates from about 170 A.D. It includes the Gospels, of course, but leaves out 1 & 2 Peter, the letter of James, and Paul's letter to the Hebrews. It also says there is an ongoing argument about whether the Apocalypse of St. John is Scripture. Eusebius, a bishop who lived about the time of Nicea, gives his own account of the "biblical" books which are, or are not, regarded as "biblical." He lists the Gospels and tells us that opinion is divided on whether the "so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name," are Scripture. He lists the Apocalypse of St. John as a disputed book, saying the list of Scriptural books should include "if it really seem[s] proper, the Apocalypse of John" but that "among the rejected writings must be reckoned . . . as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books." Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book III, Chapter 25.

No bishop arrived at Nicea carrying a King James Version or New American Bible under his arm. That's why the bishop's didn't claim the Church's authority rested on "the Bible." In the Creed they wrote for all Christians they said that the Church of Jesus Christ is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" -- "biblically-based" didn't even make the list. How could it, when parts of what we know as the Bible were rejected by some and accepted by others? The "early Christians," like today's Catholics, had something called Holy Tradition and Apostolic Succession:
In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority. Indeed, the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time. This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition . . . Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit." "And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching." As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence. Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶¶ 78-81.

That's how the bishops at Nicea could teach authoritatively about the Holy Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ even though they didn't have what we today would call "biblically-based" Christianity. The dichotomy Sister's created between "bible believing" and "Church believing" doesn't actually exist. God gave us three things to guide our Christian walk -- apostolic succession, holy tradition, and sacred scripture. All three were given, and a faith community based solely on the Bible is only one-third of a church. If we are to think that the Church is a shifting and uncertain guide to the truth, while the private use of Scripture will always point us in the right direction, then let us think so only after the Protestant world has told us in one voice that abortion is actually a sin.

Another question that comes to mind is why Sister begins in first gear with faith being statements "about reality as we believe it to be," and then lead-foots it right past Tradition and Apostolic Succession to finally screech into the theological parking lot of sola scriptura's "biblically-based" theology? Perhaps sola scriptura and the idea of "reality as we believe it to be" might not be two opposed ideas, but only two points on the same line. Certainly they're congenial to the idea that ecclesiastical "authority" is an agreeable fellowship produced by our private judgment ("allegiance") about "reality as we believe it to be." Sacred Tradition and Apostolic Succession, on the other hand, make authority absolute and absolutely necessary. They make authority uncontrollable and undebatable in a way that just doesn't arise from a text's vulnerability to private interpretation and subjective judgment. Once you've heard Pius IX say, "I am Tradition," you'll be forever looking over your shoulder when you want to talk about the changing reality of God.

However, the creed's words condense subtle, sophisticated thought which the words might no longer communicate clearly to 21st-century believers — people no longer immersed in the Greek world.

Well, I'm sure the Orthodox will be surprised to know that they can't understand the Nicene Creed because most of them aren't Greek, and even the ones who are Greek aren't as "immersed" in the Greek world of Athanasius as Athanasius himself was. (Some Greeks even watch television, and hide over-the-counter allergy medicines under their chitons. It's true! I've seen it happen!). Contrary to Sister's suggestion, condensing subtle and sophisticated thoughts into words is rather the point of creeds. It's true that the condensation tends to reduce the fund of ineffability available to the heterodox, but some believe that price is worth paying in order to preserve the faith of the Apostles. And I'm not sure, anyway, about the tacit suggestion that the Nicene Creed ought to be traded in for a new Creed that's more relevant, more sensitive, to the needs of 21st-Century Christians who just can't relate to Aristotle, Plato, St. Athanasius, St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. John Chrysostom. The old "incomprehensible" Creed seems to be holding its own: "We believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen." Now I admit that the Nicene formula doesn't embrace Sister's subtle and sophisticated thoughts about how we're actually making a statement about ‘God, who is as we believe Him to be, creator of a reality which becomes richer and more subtle . . . .' But then I'm an awful ultramontanist, and so I don't find that to be a serious flaw in the creed for which Catholics have lived, bled, and died for seventeen centuries.

Therefore, resources such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church elaborate on the creed's words in ways that both introduce us to the riches of our tradition and connect with our contemporary understanding.

Are we sure about that? We've already seen that the Nicene Creed doesn't clearly communicate with men who don't live in the Greek world of Athanasius. I'm reliably informed that neither John Paul II nor Christoph Cardinal Schönborn are Greeks; that the Pope was raised in 20th--Century Poland and the Cardinal in 20th-Century Austria; and, that neither of them was seen at the Council at Nicea carrying an New American Bible. So how can we be sure that John Paul II and Cardinal Schönborn understand a single darn thing about the Nicene Creed? The more so, since God and His reality might have changed in the intervening seventeen centuries, becoming more subtle and rich than the God addressed at Nicea. How can we be sure their Catechism is worth reading? Maybe it's just a statement of reality as they believe it to be?

As maturing believers, we use tools like the catechism to expand our understanding of the truths of faith that we share.

I'll bet ten dollars there's a resume on file at ICEL.

In that sense, we both have the truths as we first received them and yet go on discovering facets of these truths all our lives. The popularity of adult religious study programs and publications shows how valuable we find this discovery process.

I can go with this, I suppose, except for all that other stuff about how our maturing faith is actually a manifestation of our ipse dixits about an ever-changing reality. If that's what goes on at religious study programs, then it seems to me the only text worth reading in them is "FRONT TOWARD ENEMY."

The true measure of its success, though, is how faithfully we live what we believe. What we receive as truth shapes how we see reality and therefore how we act.

And that's exactly why I'm writing this, to warn the others.

When Pilate questioned Jesus about truth, Jesus did not answer directly. Certainly the truth Pilate sought, if he was serious, was far too large for a couple of quick sentences uttered at a moment of crisis.

But Jesus had answered Pilate directly: "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world. . . . You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." John 18:36-37 (RSV). That sounds pretty complete and direct to me. I suppose Jesus could have used no more breath, time, or energy to say: "Well, you can't tell it by looking at me, but I am a logos which right now matches reality as some believe it to be. But I can also change, becoming richer and subtler so long as you can immerse yourself in the Greek world of Aeschylus and Euripides." But I don't think that answer would have troubled Pilate as much as the one Jesus did give him. (See John 19:8).

As faith deepens, we too come to recognize that "truth" is somehow more than a matter of statements that match and define reality. Reality at its fullest escapes even the best of our words.

As the Godfather said, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!" For just a minute there I thought Sister was going to peck at her shell of solipsistic traditionalism and linguistic skepticism until she broke through to the reality-which-is. Alas, her neck sore, she stops pecking and leaves reality-which-is to a realm of ineffable, uncommunicable mystery that lies just on the other side of the white wall.

Good poets and faithful theologians alike know that their words open doors into the reality we call God and into God's work in the world, but do not capture them.

Yes, but good heresiarchs know that too. Ever read Serguis' letters to Honorius? The imprecision and conventionality of language is an icy bridge, not a drivers' license.

The mystery in which we "live and move and have our being," as St. Paul called it, both shapes and escapes even the most brilliant of the concepts we use to describe truth.

The "mystery" St. Paul refers to is actually a God-Man who has a name. It's Emmanuel, which means "God with us," and not "the mystery which no one can understand at all." Likewise, the Triune God has a name. It is "I AM WHO AM," and not "I AM A STATEMENT THAT MATCHES REALITY AS YOU BELIEVE IT TO BE." When you swaddle religious truth up in literary deconstructionism, or literary constructionism, or whatever kind of structionism is popular in the faculty lounge this year, you inevitably reduce God from the aspect of a Person to the aspect of a Concept. A concept can be played with, hypothesized about, even obeyed and respected -- but only a Person can be lived for, loved, and died for. "No one, I say, will die for his own calculations; he dies for realities. This is why a literary religion is so little to be depended upon; it looks well in fair weather, but its doctrines are opinions, and, when called to suffer for them, it slips them between its folios, or burns them at its hearth." John Cardinal Newman, Secular Knowledge not a Principal of Action.

The path into the heart of mystery passes through the imagination, that all-important human faculty for putting the world together in a coherent whole; mind, heart and soul all have room to breathe in the facets of what we might call "imaginative truth."

"Room to breathe in facets" -- make that twenty dollars. The human ability to imagine is one of the greatest potential obstacles to true faith. Remember that antiquated doctrine called the Fall? I won't repeat Frank Sheed's discussion of imaginary obstacles to belief in his wonderful Theology and Sanity, but I'd urge anyone who hasn't read it to do so. "Imagination" and "truth" don't go hand in hand; imagination can serve truth, but equalizing the two and coming up with a special kind of truth ("imaginative truth") is like inventing a scanner-refrigerator-cuisinart -- it may do some things some of the time, but will do none of them very well.

"Imaginative" does not mean "imaginary."

How can you tell the difference? Maybe you're just imagining things as you believe them to be? Or perhaps you're just believing things as you imagine them to be? Maybe Harvey's actually ghost-writing your column?

It is that dimension of genuine truth to which we gain access not only by conceptual words but also by the biblical poetry of speech and silence, statement and song, bread and wine, oil and water, gestures of prayer and peace, postures of proclamation and adoration that make up our liturgical worship.

The only real problem I have with this is that it doesn't, well, mean anything. What is "genuine truth" for Sister except "statements about reality as we believe it to be," but which we "can't prove" and which can only be accepted "on the authority of the community and tradition" to which we have, for whatever reason, "given our allegiance."? Gestures, postures, talking, singing, oil, bread, wine, water, whatever. They're just statements of the same sort, and even the very "real reality" to which they might point (if, of course, we choose to accept their directive power on the authority of a community we like very much and pay no attention to the fact that we can't understand them because they were all part of the "Greek world" inhabited by Homer) is a mysterious nimbus of ineffability that escapes even "the most brilliant of the concepts we use to describe truth." If this is religion, then give me science, neo-fascism, Star Trek fandom -- anything that more closely resembles a world where truths are supposed to be true no matter what anyone happens to think about them.

Ultimately, Jesus did answer Pilate indirectly. Jesus, God's invincible love for all humanity — enfleshed among us — redefined all reality by his life, death and resurrection. He himself, he said, is the Truth — the truth of God and the truth of humanity undistorted by sin.

Well now, are we sure about that? "Jesus," "God," "death," "resurrection," "sin" and so forth are just unproveable statements about things "as we believe them to be," that we accept only as a result of our allegiance to a human community but which can change their meaning and become somehow richer and subtler in their ability show us that whatever we think we believe is in essence an unknowable, ineffable, inexplicable quiddity. You know, the interesting thing about mystics, the real ones like St. Catherine or Ann Catherine Emmerich, is how vivid their writings are. You don't read Sister Faustina saying "I had, well something to do with a sort-of intuition about someone who is, well, sort of wonderful" and you don't read Julian of Norwich saying "I saw a kind of imagining about an indescribable thing and it escaped me utterly. I'm so happy!" Contact with God is supposed to enlighten men, not introduce them into a permanent state of blessed sensory-deprivation that makes all talk about truth into nonsensical "allegiance-babble."

As we grow in our relationship with God in Christ through study, through sacraments and prayer, through a life patterned on the Gospel, we grow in our knowledge of this living Truth, who is a person.

Same point about saying that the "living Truth is a person." It's just a statement, you know, which can change and leave behind the antiquated paradigms of Greek philosophy . . . .

This Truth grounds all other expressions of the truth, whether conceptual or imaginative.

That Truth being the ineffable mystery of unknowable somethingness that can't be proved but which we make statements about on the authority of the church as we like it right now, and great will be the fall of it. See Matthew 7:27.

We will never fully possess this Truth, though.

Not so. "The life of the blessed [in Heaven] consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ." Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶ 1026. "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me." John 17:20-23. "This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - is called "heaven." Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness. To live in heaven is "to be with Christ." The elect live "in Christ," but they retain, or rather find, their true identity, their own name. For life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom." Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶¶ 1024-25.

It would be fine and right for Sister to have said that we can't know all of God as He knows Himself, but that's not what she's saying, because "that they may be one, even as we are one," is just a statement that matches reality as we believe it to be on the authority of the community we like right now. For her, truth is an ineffable unknowable "somethingness" that escapes our understanding because we have this bad language habit and Heaven doesn't fully resemble either Mount Olympus or Mount Athos. Try feeding that into Pascal's Wager and see what looks like the more attractive decision.

On the contrary, our greatest hope is that this Truth will one day fully possess us.

But if we can't know the Truth, then how will we know we're possessed by it? Thank God I wasn't raised a Catholic. If I'd had this stuff spooned into me through thirteen years of parochial school and CCD classes, I'd either be thumping a Bible or tapping on a syringe. Pilate got the straight stuff from Jesus and still asked "What is truth." Is anyone who gets taught this pablum going to be less likely to ask the same question? Or have the same reaction as Pilate? I doubt it.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Edification and Kneeling, Part III (The Conclusion)

Herewith the concluding installment on "Edification and Kneeling." It also contains the footnotes to the first two installments. I wanted to be sure I footnoted everything, so that guys like BF from Texas can prolong their enjoyment by perusing the linked sources . . . .

The Politics of Kneeling

All individual decisions have a political dimension, because no individual decision leaves the community untouched. Most of my "legal" arguments were addressed in my first post on this issue, and in subsequent correspondence with "Joe" and others. In the preceding part of this "essay" I've tried to explain the root of those legal arguments, the reasons for the continuing legitimacy of kneeling as preserved by the CDWDS. I have had hard words for them, and for the Bishops, but that is largely because I believe the Catholic life is a strong life which can stand hard words when they are warranted. (Certainly my Bishop and his Diocesan Newspaper believe this!) But the above is necessary, I think, to explain that an argument for continued kneeling under GIRM §160(2) & §43 is not a mere lawyerly quibble that indulges a taste for anachronism, or a shallow contrarianism masquerading as conservatism. Authentic conservatism does not believe so much in the treasures of the past as it does the possibility of treasure, and that conviction has sadly abandoned the authors and advocates of the GIRM's American adaptations. Kneeling and private prayer are not penitential customs or invitations to liturgical anarchy. They are holy customs, sacred ways, for they are intimately and communally Christological. One would rest easier under the new adaptations if one knew this was understood, and cherished, but gladly abandoned for a greater way to achieve the same goodness. (Cf. Matthew 19:21-22). Instead, one sees only a pungent campaign which combines the spiteful ahistoricism of Baptists with the glib badgering of animal-rights activists. It is a frightening thing to behold. But the failures of the community don't relieve the proponents of kneeling from answering some hard questions about their place in that community. I should like to try answering those questions, as raised by Shawn, in this part of my essay.

Lex orandi, lex credendi, "what is prayed is what is believed." Proponents of kneeling have a problem which, regrettably, is analogous to a feature of the debate between Traditional proponents of the Mass of St. Pius V and the Novus Ordo. It is the idea that one custom or practice is inherently more reverent than its alternative, an idea which inevitably suggests that those who lack the "right" custom are less reverent themselves. Witness my exchange with Shawn, via my email and his blogged reply:
SecretAgentMan: I am put in mind of what Julia told Winston in 1984 -- so long as you keep the little rules, you can break all the big ones. That seems to be the Diocesan Paper's editorial priority as well -- who cares if you put your fourteen-year-old daugher on the pill, so long as you keep her from kneeling to receive communion! And isn't it doubly-odd to imagine a fourteen-year-old girl who kneels to receive communion being on the pill to avoid getting pregnant by her fifteen-year-old boyfriends?

Shawn: I would not make the presumption that kneeling to receive communion would mitigate against what you have noted. I know of some fellow parishoners at SSPX who knelt to receive communion yet who went on to have children out of wedlock. Likewise, there were actually some modernists who preferred the Tridentine liturgy for aesthetic reasons over the Pauline liturgy. One should never consider any liturgy - or form of communion reception - to be a bulwark against error in and of itself. As long as there are flawed people in the equation, no law however sacred is safe from being contravened.

I was wrong, of course, and Shawn is right. If liturgical custom could cure sin, then grace is no more grace. But at the risk of seeming vain, there is a sense (not expressed in the exchange above) in which I may be right and Shawn may miss the mark. If Shawn were to match my intemperate outburst with his own and say that the merits of the new custom are irrelevant to the good life, then he would be saying that liturgy itself is meaningless. Even the sinner's hypocrisy is a tribute to virtue, to the permeability of our nature to custom, and to custom's ability to point us back to our true home. I would, in that case, submit that a pregnant teenaged girl who kneels before her God in the Eucharist both receives and gives a sign that is hidden from a halter-topped single girl who carries her unborn child with a bold confidence, escorted by singing acolytes, to claim "her sacrament." We learn what we are taught, and we are more frequently (and, usually, better) taught by customs than by dogmas. Within a mutual commitment to objective truth and enduring human reality, is there a way to avoid claiming superiority in reverence, preeminence in faith, upon "mere" differences in custom?

The answer, I believe, is "not always, but sometimes," and the difference is told less by debates about the merits of a particular custom than by a thorough understanding of the limits of human knowledge. The idea that custom is a wise and powerful teacher itself rests on the proposition that we must live realities which we do not explicitly or fully know. Custom is a form of government, and Washington's observation applies: It is like fire, a dangerous servant and a terrible master. Societies which are exclusively dominated by custom are stagnant and hostile to individual maturity, but societies which have no folkways are chaotic and characterized by extreme alienation. If customs were machines we would always know what to do with them, when to use them, what parts to change or when to paint them a different color. But customs are living things which have their root in a twilight, dreamy realm where rationality dozes under the ever-watchful gaze of truth. There are, of course, customs which are knowably, objectively wrong because they contravene such truth as can be known outside the ineffable mystery. Yet their number is, I think, far smaller than we imagine because our own culture induces us to make arguments about the "fittingness" of a custom in objective terms which are ultimately inappropriate. Many "Traditionalist" arguments about the Novus Ordo, with their unbearably strained attempts to go from culture into theology, fall into this category.

I don't believe I've followed my Traditionalist cousins in "Edification and Kneeling" because, first, I'm writing an adversarial brief for the preservation of what is primarily a cultural element in the liturgy. Assertive statements and critiques are part of that method, not necessarily a sign that culture is being used interchangeably with theology. Second, I have never made an argument that men are dogmatically (or even theologically) required to kneel to receive communion, or during the reception of others' communion. I hope I have fairly demonstrated that the USCC's liturgical/theological "authoritativeness" on this issue is purely de jure and is not to be confused with any significant degree of knowledge or cultural competence. But I would gladly submit all of us to the judgment of St. John Chrysostom, a Catholic who both lived and understood the Mass. The USCC can take great comfort in Chrysostom's Divine Liturgy, and the worshipful respect given to it by the faithful throughout millenia, because it clearly rules against granting a dogmatic place to kneeling in any part of the Mass. But however helpful Chrysostom's example may be, it cannot be the USCC's final and only answer to our questions unless the USCC is willing to commit the same fault which might (wrongly, I hope) be alleged against my own arguments, namely elevating culture into dogma.

If culture isn't identical to theology, then we shouldn't anchor our discussion solely to the binary presuppositions of theological discourse. That might be the largest flaw in the USCC's position, which discusses kneeling as though its place were mathematically dictated by dogmatic principles of eucharistic and ecclesiastical theology and as though any custom worthy of the name can be created by institutional decrees on behalf of theories invented by liturgical "working groups." Customs, after all, both express and experience truths and, therefore, customs represent something besides themselves. Perhaps we could give a limited place to Plato's criticism of art, laying its pejorative conclusions to one side while adopting its tolerance of at least some representational license. No column which looks straight can really be straight all the way to the top; any culture will have aspects that appear "inauthentic" or even "dangerous" to those who are unaware of the other cultural priorities and conventions which successfully keep oddity from becoming sacrilege. Seen in this aspect, our judgment of customs and cultures should, within a broad but discernable range of practice, become less confident, less dogmatic. The resulting openness was one of the central themes of Sacrosanctum Concilium itself, which is why my Bishop's invocation of the decree's provisions about accepting culture sounds so hollow in defense of his attempt to create one out of whole cloth. (But then, this is the United States, where we haven't had anything resembling a culture for a hundred years or more, so perhaps I can find some sympathy for his lese majeste).

This need not lead us to believe that all culture is equally wonderful and beneficent unless it can be condemned with quotations from Ott.[56] Even allowing for a tolerable range of practice, the refusal to dogmatize culture exposes culture to being objectively praised, worried over, or criticized. That process is, after all, one of the ways in which culture changes.[57] I do indeed submit that people who kneel for communion and engage in private prayer after receiving the Lord experience at least an opportunity for an awareness of the eucharistic mystery than those who don't. Conversely, there would be little point in the new GIRM adaptations unless they were thought of in a similar superior fashion. The difference is that neither my position nor my views of culture allow me to dogmatize my opinions into the basis for judgments about the spiritual lives of Catholics who practice another (admittedly established) culture. That is why Shawn so rightly took me to task for my outburst about teenaged girls who kneel to receive communion. It is also why I require that the same judgment be uttered against Bishops who issue ipso facto pronouncements of heresy and schism against kneeling Catholics. (If I am wrong to do a thing, I claim the criminal's privilege and insist that everyone else who does it be wrong themselves). We know enough to say that neither kneeling nor standing to receive the Eucharist is objectively disordered and an insufficient witness to eucharistic truth. We may know enough to say that one is better than another, or at least we may know enough to express our opinions with that degree of certainty which nonetheless accepts dispute and reproof. But we don't know enough to say that one custom makes a shipwreck of the faith while the other rides safe in the Barque of Peter. When it comes to certainty about the morality of culture, there are worlds of difference between prima nocte and kneeling in imitation of Christ in Gethsemane.

It is a sign of the uncertainty and instability, I dare say the individualism, of our age that such thoughts might be thought to call the whole idea of culture into question. If I say that culture can be evaluated in a non-binary framework, and that opposite practices can be wholesome alike, then haven't I just explained why culture is a synonym for anarchy? No, because if a habit or practice is to acquire the beneficial status of "culture" which I give, for example, to kneeling it must achieve things which are inconsistent with anarchy. First, it must represent an experience of truth. That fact alone ties it into a necessary relationship with all our experiences of truth and, hence, with truth itself. Second, it must represent an expression of some truth. That fact alone identifies culture with a communal relationship in which individual preference is not sovereign. A man may prefer to retain his shoes upon entering a Japanese home, or to eat his couscous from an individual bowl, but he may not without breaking the bonds of community woven by the culture in which he finds himself. Culture's connection to community and truth commands our deep respect, while its connection to human contingency makes its expression of truth and community vulnerable to criticism and growth. That is not anarchy. It's not neat, bureaucratically-divinized uniformity, but it's not anarchy.

"But," I anticipate the objection, "we need a consistent liturgical culture in the United States." Why? Especially if the "inconsistency" between two parishes, or two dioceses, lies in each following the Mass as Catholics have done for decades, if not centuries. It was once thought that a consistency of culture was a paramount benefit of the Catholic faith, and that where such culture did not exist, Catholicism was absent. Hence Cum data fuerit and its aftermath,[58] and hence Sacrosanctum Concilium and its recognition that authentic Catholicism does not require -- and, depending on the circumstances, may be harmed by -- a uniform liturgical culture. If we must have such a culture, then John Paul II was in error when he wrote: "[I]t is necessary that all the pastors and the other faithful have a new awareness, not only of the lawfulness but also of the richness for the Church of a diversity of charisms, traditions of spirituality and apostolate, which also constitutes the beauty of unity in variety: of that blended "harmony" which the earthly Church raises up to Heaven under the impulse of the Holy Spirit."[59] It is not "advisable," nor is it "preferable." It is necessary. Section 43 of the US-GIRM itself does not insist on that kind of uniformity with respect to "communion processions," or standing after the Agnus Dei, nor does Rome insist on it with respect to kneeling to receive communion under §160(2); I don't see how it can be maintained that diversity on such matters between and within Dioceses is somehow tolerable while diversity between parishes (or between most parishes and one parish) is somehow disastrous.

Still, if culture is a shared experience and expression, there is some level at which it must be uniformly followed. I think that, in this case, that level is the parish, and I agree with Shawn that "[T]o deliberately go against the manner whereby the particular church administers the sacrament viz standing or kneeling is a sign of hidden pride and manifested spiritual immaturity." I would add "likely" before "sign," simply because some people are dull enough, or scrupulous enough, to contravene a custom for other reasons. Why the parish? Because it is the lowest level at which one has a visible locus of Christ's authority in the person of the priest. Catholics can't have communities without priests, not real ones, anyhow. It's in our DNA, if you will, and so the parish is the natural ne plus ultra of John Paul's "blended ‘harmony' which the earthly Church raises up to Heaven under the impulse of the Holy Spirit."[60] All this, I think, is recognized implicitly by the CDWDS' refusal to allow the Bishops to enforce their decrees on the individual level of a parishioner who receives communion.


[1] Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy Bulletin, "Postures and Gestures at Mass." The full text can be found here. (hereafter "Postures and Gestures at Mass").

[2] Id.

[3] General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) § 83. The full text can be found here.

[4] Tertullian, On Prayer, Chapter XXIII. The text can be found here.

[5] Eusebius, History of the Church, Book V, Chapter V. The text can be found here..

[6] Council of Nicea, Canon XX The text may be found here.

[7] Adrian Fortescue, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy, p. 375 (Albany: Preserving Christian Publications, 1999)

[8] Fortescue, The Mass, pp. 93-97.

[9] Divine Liturgy of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark. The text can be found here.

[10] Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (emphasis supplied). The entire text can be found here.

[11] Id.

[12] See, e.g, Catholic Encyclopedia, Genuflexion (New York: Knights of Columbus, 1913). The full text can be found here.

[13] Psalm 2:10-12 (KJV).

[14] "Postures and Gestures at Mass."

[15] Job 38:3-7 (KJV)

[16] Catholic Encyclopedia, "Humility." (New York: Knights of Columbus, 1913). The on-line version of the article can be found here.

[17] See, e.g., Summa II(II) art. 161, q. 4.

[18] Id.

[19] Summa II(II) a. 162 qq. 6-7.

[20] Psalm 8:3-9 (KJV)

[21] Deitrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ

[22] Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman, Pastoral Letter, 1849, quoted in Stang, Pastoral Theology, p. 127 (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1897).

[23] Reproductions may be found in Weitzmann, The Icon, Plates 24 & 28 (New York: George Braziller, 1978).

[24] See Catholic Encyclopedia, Genuflexion.

[25] Bertrand de Jouvenel, Sovereignty (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1984).

[26] "Postures and Gestures at Mass" (emphasis supplied).

[27] Canon XIX, Council of Orange. It may be found in Denzinger, or on line here. The interpolations are mine, but I believe they accurately convey the Council's points. For comparison, see the Catechism 1996-2005.

[28] "Postures and Gestures at Mass."

[29] Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei ¶¶ 74, 81, 99 & 118 (1947). The full text can be found here.

[30] "Postures and Gestures at Mass."

[31] Canons of the Council of Orange, loc cit.

[32] "Postures and Gestures at Mass."

[33] John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, § 20 (1979) The full text can be found here.

[34] Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini (1966). The full text can be found here.

[35] "Postures and Gestures at Mass."

[36] Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Protocol #1322/02/L, 1 July 2002. The text may be found here.

[37] USCC, Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy Handout, More about GIRM, printed in The Prairie Catholic of the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota. The solicismic word "my" was omitted between "individual act of" and "faith and piety," but the meaning remains unchanged. The text can be found here.

[38] See, e.g. Catholic Encyclopedia, "Individualism," (New York: Knights of Columbus, 1913). The full text can be found here.

[39] Catholic Bishops Deal with New Phenomenon: An Older America. The text can be found here.

[40] Life Issues Forum "Living the Real Thing" by Theresa Notare. The text can be found here.

[41] "Empowered by the Spirit: Campus Ministry Faces the Future" A Pastoral Letter on Campus Ministry Issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops November 15, 1985 The text can be found here.

[42] Life Issues Forum "The Essential Equation" by Theresa Notare. The text can be found here.The text can be found here.

[43] Light and Shadows: Our Nation 25 Years After Roe v. Wade, A Statement of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops The text can be found here.

[44] The Continuing Importance of Humanae Vitae by Most Rev. James T. McHugh.The text can be found here.

[45] This particular statement does not appear to be available on line. I am indebted to Mr. David Curtin of Catholic Insight for the information and the quote. Mr. Curtin's article, Standing Up for Kneeling may be found here.

[46]BCL Newsletter, July 2, 2002. The full text can be found here.

[47] John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, ¶¶ 32-33 (1993). The full text can be found here.

[48] John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, ¶ 7 (1992). The full text can be found here.

[49] John Paul II, Id., ¶ 8.

[50] This, of course, is an allusion to Yeats' Second Coming.

[51] Pius XII, Mystici Corporis ¶¶ 61-63 (1943). The full text can be found here.

[52] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, ¶ 10 (1963). The full text can be found here.

[53] Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, ¶ 42 (1964). The full text can be found here.

[54] Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, ¶¶ 5-6 (1965). The full text can be found here.

[55] Jacques Maritain, The Peasant of the Garonne: An Old Layman Questions Himself About the Present Time, pp. 218-19 (New York: Holt, Rienhart & Winston, 1968). Emphases are original.

[56] Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (St. Louis: B. Herder Publishers, 1962).

[57] Had the USCC bothered to actually make a case against the dreaded "privatization of the Mass" through personal prayer, and offered a thoughtful critique of the custom which recognized its fundamental solidarity as to the ends of Catholicism but which also pointed out the custom's unintended shortcomings in the current condition, a civil and familial discourse might have ensued leading to an organic development (or at least a quasi-organic development) of something approaching culture. It chose instead to cultivate its unique liturgical flower in the usual hot-house environment of carefully-selected "lay people," the predictable run of academics and scholars, and liturgically-correct clerics, and then hurl its Eucharistic Anathema from the Sinai of 3211 North 4th Street NE, Washington, DC 20017-1194 against any Catholic who dared kneel before the Golden Calf of "Privatizing Tridentine Spirituality." Only people who have lifetime job security think and act this way, and it's a tragedy of modern life that they're not only the same people who are most likely to indulge in that sort of behavior but also the same people whose effectiveness cannot generally survive the indulgence. That is, in fact, a good one-sentence history of the SSPX from both sides.

[58] A decree of the Holy See demanding clerical celibacy of eastern Catholics in the United States, issued in 1929 and resulting in the schism of many thousands of Ruthenian Christians in the United States. The circumstances surrounding the decree and schism are complex, and it would be inaccurate to characterize the schsim purely as a revolt against "cultural imperialism" without deeper theological causes. But its inclusion here is not amiss, either -- Cum Data Fuerit began a period of time in which almost anything that was not distinctively Roman in origin (like the iconostasis) was looked at as tantamount to ecclesiastical sedition.

[59] John Paul II, Ecclesia Dei Adflicta ¶ 5 (1988). The full text is available here.

[60] Id.

[61] This is proven by the fact that I had previously read (and published here) my opinion that Tertullian recorded a majority practice by Christians kneeling at Sunday Mass. I am indebted to Mr. E. Hamilton for pointing out my error, which is fairly common among the unschooled, of confusing "Sabbath / sabbato" when used by Church Fathers with "Sunday." If you read the quotation I provided with "Sabbath" instead of "Saturday" you'll see the inducement to my error. Fortunately, Mr. Hamilton was kind enough to read my blog and provide criticism, which may be found here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

So how come they don't do this in our churches?

Here in the United States of We Are Church, we get to attend "cutoff masses," "cargo shorts" masses, and "bathroom flipflop masses." But over there, at the Vatican,
it's a total class act.
Kneeling & Edification, Continued

This is the second part of a three-part reply to I. Shawn McElhinney at Rerum Novarum about kneeling and its place in the Novus Ordo generally, and under the recent American adaptations to the GIRM (US-GIRM). It deals with kneeling and private prayer during communion and after one has received communion. Much of this is mooted by the CDWDS' recent ruling (see below "I told ya so . . . .") but for what it's worth I'll post it here and conclude tomorrow with some thoughts on culture and kneeling in individual Catholic parish communities.

Kneeling and Private Prayer

Hand and hand with the eradication of kneeling is a campaign against private prayer at Mass. Opining that before the Second Vatican Council there was "little sense of liturgical prayer" among the faithful, who were supposedly reduced to ineffectually trying to follow the Mass"with a prayer book containing a translation of the Latin . . . or listen[ing] to a choir," he has determined to eradicate the "privatization of holy Communion" in order to "highlight the more communitarian character" of receiving the Lord. He is gratified that the Second Vatican Council instituted the communion hymn, because "folks are less likely to retreat into private prayer upon returning to their place after receiving holy Communion," but is still disturbed that "for the most part, the time after the reception of Communion has remained a period of private prayer." Accordingly, he commands that there be no private prayer after communion except during the vague, ever-variable, and awkward "period of silence" discussed in my correspondence with "Joe." (He also says, true to my speculation about the USCC's theorizing, that we may not kneel during that period because sitting is the proper posture for reflecting on Jesus' eucharistic glory). In order to obliterate private prayer immediately after Communion, our Bishop suggests the following communion procession:
In most parishes, people approach a Communion minister starting with the front pews and proceeding to the front of the Church, but there is no procession as such. To emphasize the procession aspect, consideration might be given to a different approach. A cross bearer and two candle bearers (acolytes) might proceed from the altar to the back of the Church as the priest celebrant receives Communion. The cross bearer and acolytes then might lead initial communicants to Eucharistic ministers stationed in the front of the Church. This means that those in the rear of the Church would receive first and those in the front last.

Everyone, of course, is to remain standing and singing until the last person communes. The USCC, of course, heartily endorses this crusade against private prayer and the alternative focus on the corporate conception of Christ's body to be expressed in the communion procession:
For some, however, the singing of this hymn is perceived as an intrusion on their own prayer, their private thanksgiving after Communion. In fact, however, this hymn is prayer, the corporate thanksgiving prayer . . . Over and over again the . . . [GIRM instructions] emphasize this fundamental concept of the unity of the baptized, stressing that when we . . . participate in the Eucharistic celebration we come, not as individuals, but as united members of Christ's body . . .[The GIRM] says of the Communion Song that its function is to express outwardly . . . union . . . unity . . . and to highlight the "communitarian" character of the Communion Procession. . . . It is difficult for some of us to embrace this emphasis on Mass [sic] as the action of a community rather than an individual act of [ ] faith and piety, but it is important that we make every effort to do so. . . . We are the Body of Christ, moving forward to receive the Christ who makes us one with himself and with one another. Our procession should move with dignity; our bearing should be that of those who know they have been redeemed by Christ and are coming to receive their God!". . . If you are the body and members of Christ, then it is your sacrament that is placed on the table of the Lord; it is your sacrament that you receive.[37]

I venture to say that the Bishops are so strident on these points because they see them as an effective way to combat individualism, the glorification of a free subjectivism in all aspects of life.[38]

The USCC finds "individualism," at the root of our society's evils. According to USCC publications, individualism promotes our society's disrespect and neglect of the aged; [39] the decline in stable family life and the rise of sexual immorality and cohabitation;[40] the denial of the truth of sin and redemption in favor of false psychological theories of personalism, and; [41] serves as a growth medium for the Culture of Death through the subjectivization of individual ethics that devalues other human beings.[42] "Unlimited individualism" has undermined government's responsibility to protect life" causing violence against all persons, born and unborn, spread through our society like a cancer." [43] Individualism thwarts the spread of the Gospel in Western society, because one cannot achieve a solid faith and disciplined Christian in a society "that is premised on individualism, sexual permissiveness, lack of personal responsibility for one's actions, material comfort and hedonism. Such is the prevailing atmosphere of the Western world."[44] A supposed identity of moral individualism and kneeling at communion appears in episcopal publications. In 1991 the National Bulletin on Liturgy, a publication by the Canadian Bishops, claimed that kneeling is inappropriate at Mass because it is "an act of adoration and individual piety," whereas "the Eucharistic Prayer is the action of the Church offering the prayer and sacrifice of praise to God." [45] In its own recent pronouncements on the issue, the United States' Bishops' Committee on Liturgy says that kneeling gives the "appearance of individualism"[46] in addition to the appearance of "division" caused by allegedly disobeying the Church's instructions on the liturgy.[45] Concerns over "individualism" are well placed, and have been since Pope Leo XIII inveighed against it during the springtime of the modern industrialized world. But is it really that simple? Are modern men to be healed by a paradigm that says they may not go to meet God as individuals, but only as part of a uniformly-regimented whole?

The scourge of individualism is not produced merely by an individual's awareness of himself, nor by the tension between that awareness and his membership in a community. In Veritatis Splendor, the Holy Father diagnoses individualism, finding in it a disordered freedom that simultaneously promises the empowerment of the individual's conscience and encourages him to indulge in a profound skepticism about, and eventual denial of, a universe of truth in which he can have a meaningful place.[47] In his Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Debo Vobis, the Holy Father describes the sad and impoverished dimensions of an individualist's life:
We should take note also of a desperate defense of personal subjectivity which tends to close it off in individualism, rendering it incapable of true human relationships. As a result, many -- especially children and young people -- seek to compensate for this loneliness with substitutes of various kinds, in more or less acute forms of hedonism or flight from responsibility. Prisoners of the fleeting moment, they seek to "consume" the strongest and most gratifying individual experiences at the level of immediate emotions and sensations, inevitably finding themselves indifferent and "paralyzed" as it were when they come face to face with the summons to embark upon a life project which includes a spiritual and religious dimension and a commitment to solidarity.[48]

Individualism isn't the fact of individuality. It is a "distorted sense of freedom. . . Instead of being understood as obedience to objective and universal truth, freedom is lived out as a blind acquiescence to instinctive forces and to an individual's will to power. Individualism naturally erodes internal consent to ethical principles" and results widespread indifference and . . . a life which, even in its more significant moments and more decisive choices . . . lived as if God did not exist.[49] In other words, individualism is a false understanding of true individuality, a fraudulent sense of sufficiency that makes men deaf to the falconer, creating an ever-widening gyre of anarchy wherein the best are unsure of truth and the worst give themselves up to their own lusts.[50]

Individualism is not an exterior illness, a visible separation from a whole. It is a spiritual affliction, an inward, invisible denial of a real moral universe. Supporters of abortion rights and the Culture of Death are thoroughly suffused with individualism, but this does not keep them from engaging in "communal" events like rallies, clubs and associations, etc., etc. The men and women who try to compensate for the loneliness of their individualism are slaves to intellectual and physical fashions, the ever-changing yet ever-same priorities of a consumptive and hedonistic society. They are constantly changing their "lifestyles" in response to the merest variation in the cultural winds which blow about them. This mass of activity is also rife with individualism, even though it is played out in a communal environment that stresses conformity to style, adherence to popular idiom, with a rigor that might be envied by an abbot. In the proper sense of the term, Nazism was an individualistic movement, lived as "blind acquiescence" to the "instinctive forces" of race and a national "will to power." Its pretense of a scientific foundation, and of "moral" objectivity and order, nonetheless bound its adherents to a life which . . . [was] lived as if God did not exist. Individualism is not mere anarchy, and it may dominate what appears to be a highly-organized and "objective" social movement. Considered strictly, therefore, neither visible signs of community nor visible signs of individuality have much (if anything) to do with the existence or influence of individualism.

The Church has, therefore, never recognized the Manichean antagonism between "community" and "individual" which suffuses the Bishops' horror at "privatizing" the Mass. In Catholicism, the relationship of individual and community is not hostile, but reciprocal:
In a natural body the principle of unity unites the parts in such a manner that each lacks its own individual subsistence; on the contrary, in the Mystical Body [of Christ] the mutual union, though intrinsic, links the members by a bond which leaves to each the complete enjoyment of his own personality Moreover . . . in every physical, living body, all the different members are ultimately destined to the good of the whole alone; while . . . every moral association . . . is . . . directed to the advancement of all in general and of each single member in particular; for they are persons. And thus -- to return to Our theme -- as the Son of the Eternal Father came down from heaven for the salvation of us all, He likewise established the body of the Church and enriched it with the divine Spirit to ensure that immortal souls should attain eternal happiness according to the words of the Apostle: "All things are yours; and you are Christ's: and Christ is God's." For the Church exists both for the good of the faithful and for the glory of God and of Jesus Christ whom He sent.

But if we compare a mystical body with a moral body, it is to be noted that the difference between them is not slight; rather it is very considerable and very important. In the moral body the principal of union is nothing else than . . . the common cooperation of all under the authority of society for the attainment of [an] end; whereas in the Mystical Body . . . this collaboration is supplemented by another internal principle, which exists effectively in the whole and in each of its parts, and whose excellence is such that of itself it is vastly superior to whatever bonds of union may be found in a physical or moral body. . . . [t]his is something not of the natural but of the supernatural order; rather it is something in itself infinite, uncreated: the Spirit of God, who, as the Angelic Doctor says, "numerically one and the same, fills and unifies the whole Church."

Hence, this word ["body"] in its correct signification gives us to understand that the Church, a perfect society of its kind, is not made up of merely moral and juridical elements and principles. It is far superior to all other human societies; it surpasses them as grace surpasses nature, as things immortal are above all those that perish. . . . that which lifts the Society of Christians far above the whole natural order is the Spirit of our Redeemer who penetrates and fills every part of the Church's being . . . Just as our composite mortal body, although it is a marvelous work of the Creator, falls far short of the eminent dignity of our soul, so the social structure of the Christian community, though it proclaims the wisdom of its divine Architect, still remains something inferior when compared to the spiritual gifts which give it beauty and life, and to the divine source whence they flow.

A Catholic's individuality is not a nail in the flesh of Christ. It is a necessary, constituent part of Christ's Body, the Church, for all the members of that body mutually depend on one another's unique existence: "And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary. And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness." 1 Cor. 12:21-23 (KJV). The metaphor can be continued to the level of the smallest and most feeble members -- one cell of the eye cannot say to the other "I have no need of thee." It is quite true that this beautiful arrangement is contradicted by a denial of human solidarity through individual subjectivity and separatism. But it is equally contradicted by false conceptions of solidarity in which the entire body tells its members "we are all the same," thus denying the body's real God-tempered dependence on the unique, individual life of each of its members.

This is precisely what the Bishops are unintentionally doing when they foster, both within and without the liturgy, the idea that the Mass has nothing to do with the individual, and everything to do with the collective. Their new GIRM policies are explained in terms which leave no doubt that the individual is inauthentic, the only real experience of Christ is found in uniform participation in a collective identity: "The Mass [is] the action of a community rather than an individual act of [ ] faith and piety . . . We are the Body of Christ, moving forward to receive the Christ who makes us one . . . with one another . . . [w]hen we . . . participate in the Eucharistic celebration we come, not as individuals, but as united members of Christ's body . . . who must not be allowed to "privatize the Mass" by "retreat[ing] . . . into private prayer" upon receiving the Lord's body and blood. Indeed, these explanations leave one unable to understand why even the "period of silence" the Bishops are presently willing to allow us can be thought good, or even tolerable. If "retreat[ing] into private prayer" impermissibly engages in the "privatization of holy Communion" and denies the Mass' true nature as "the action of a community rather than an individual," surely it makes no difference when this baneful intrusion of "individualism" occurs during the Mass. There can be no harmony between the Bishops' condemnation of individualized participation in the Mass and their praise of its collective character, because they have accepted a false opposition of "individual vs. community" as a token for the very real opposition of "individualism vs. solidarity." In essence, they're simplistically attempting to combat "individualism" by ignoring or even erasing the individualized actions which make it possible. That will never work, especially when it's tried within a larger frame that abhors "penitential" activity that might humiliate man's consciousness by forcing him to realize his utter dependence on the "fearful God."

The "active participation" of the faithful sought by the Second Vatican Council was never intended to erect this false antagonism between "privatization" understood as an individual experience of the Eucharist and "the Mass" understood as a sheer collective act which cannot abide private eucharistic encounters with God. To the contrary, the Council's documents reveal that the reciprocal nature of communion and individuality is essential to the Mass, the Church, and the salvation of man:
[T]he liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper.

The liturgy in its turn moves the faithful, filled with "the paschal sacraments," to be "one in holiness"; it prays that "they may hold fast in their lives to what they have grasped by their faith"; the renewal in the eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ and sets them on fire. From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the eucharist, as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their end, is achieved in the most efficacious possible way.

* * *

"God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God and God in Him." But, God pours out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, Who has been given to us; thus the first and most necessary gift is love, by which we love God above all things and our neighbor because of God. Indeed, in order that love, as good seed may grow and bring forth fruit in the soul, each one of the faithful must willingly hear the Word of God and accept His Will, and must complete what God has begun by their own actions with the help of God's grace. These actions consist in the use of the sacraments and in a special way the Eucharist, frequent participation in the sacred action of the Liturgy, application of oneself to prayer, self-abnegation, lively fraternal service and the constant exercise of all the virtues. For charity, as the bond of perfection and the fullness of the law, rules over all the means of attaining holiness and gives life to these same means. It is charity which guides us to our final end. It is the love of God and the love of one's neighbor which points out the true disciple of Christ. . . . The Church continually keeps before it the warning of the Apostle which moved the faithful to charity, exhorting them to experience personally what Christ Jesus had known within Himself. This was the same Christ Jesus, who "emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave . . . becoming obedient to death". . . . [53]

* * *

Thus the Eucharistic Action, over which the priest presides, is the very heart of the congregation. So priests must instruct their people to offer to God the Father the Divine Victim in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and to join to it the offering of their own lives. . . . Priests likewise must instruct their people to participate in the celebrations of the Sacred Liturgy in such a way that they become proficient in genuine prayer. They must coax their people on to an ever more perfect and constant spirit of prayer for every grace and need. They must gently persuade everyone to the fulfillment of the duties of his state of life, and to greater progress in responding in a sensible way to the evangelical counsels. . . .

Exercising the office of Christ, the Shepherd and Head, and according to their share of His authority, priests, in the name of the bishop, gather the family of God together as a brotherhood enlivened by one spirit. . . . For the exercise of this ministry, as for the other priestly duties, spiritual power is conferred upon them for the building up of the Church. In building up of the Church, priests . . . should teach [men] and admonish them as beloved sons, according to the words of the Apostle: "Be urgent in season, out of season, reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine"

Priests . . . must see to it . . . that the faithful are led individually in the Holy Spirit to a development of their own vocation according to the Gospel, to a sincere and practical charity, and to that freedom with which Christ has made us free. Ceremonies however beautiful, or associations however flourishing, will be of little value if they are not directed towards the education of men to Christian maturity. In furthering this, priests, should help men to see what is required and what is God's will in the important and unimportant events of life. Also, Christians should be taught that they live not only for themselves, but, according to the demands of the new law of charity; as every man has received grace, he must administer the same to others. In this way, all will discharge in a Christian manner their duties in the community of men.

One is tempted to highlight all the occasions in which words like "individual," "each," and "each one," are used, and likewise the passages which show the impossibility of living the Mass without private, individualized concern and experience. But that would suggest another fictive dichotomy between the individual and the community. What is needed is a thorough understanding that the individual lives embraced by and made part of the Body of Christ must be allowed their "private" dimension so that they may fulfill the "public" manifestation of God With Us.

Perhaps Jacques Maritain put his finger on it in his collection of essays published at the close of the Second Vatican Council:
[Contemplating the Council's decrees on "active participation"] one understands a bit better why the liturgical life is a normally necessary aid for those who set out toward the perfection of charity. Because in the Church, and in an infintely more real sense than in all other ‘societies' worthy of the name, is verified the principle that the common good is a good common to the whole and to the parts; or in other words, the common good flows back finally on to the parts, who are human persons. It is by virtue of the work accomplished in common in the liturgical celebration, and the sanctification that flows back from it to each of those who have truly participated, that the Christians who endeavor to advance toward sanctity are made better able to move forward. What they have done during the celebration, they have done as members of the whole. What they receive, they receive ultimately as persons. . . .

The conclusion of these reflections can, it seems to me, be formulated thus: it is essential to the Christian to be at one and the same time person and member; and he is always both, since these two aspects of him are distinct but cannot be separated. I observed a moment ago that in the liturgical celebration Christians are sanctified first of all through the flowing back on each one of the good accomplished through their common work. It is not above all, therefore, by what he does as a member of the whole, in doing his part of the work of the whole, it is above all by what he finally receives as a person on whom the good of the whole is flowing back, that the Christian is then sanctified, and that the liturgy is for him an indispensable aid in his progress toward God.

The Mass must not be "privatized." But that is not to say private prayer after the reception of communion indulges an impermissible subjectification. To the contrary, private prayer after the reception of communion is a necessary means for each Christian to realize both what he has done as a member and what he has thereby received as a person. To be sure, the "communitarian" elements of the Mass are indispensible to its existence at the summit of Catholic life; if we dispensed with them, our worship would lose its connection to the Church and the Body of Christ. But we cannot go to the other extreme; if we condemn individual eucharistic piety as "private" subjectification hostile to the Body of Christ, we make our worship into a simple ceremony. It only remains to allude to my earlier discussion of kneeling, to connect this individual moment with that particularly-expressive posture.

It is a deeply-seated habit in human culture to redress imbalance, even if it is attempted only by another, and countervailing, gout of excess. I believe that the exclusive "communitarian" focus of our Bishops may very well lead to actual individualism, creating uncontainable pressures among the faithful to seek a private, intimate eucharistic unity with Jesus Christ which will erupt in endless sentimental tinkering on a diocesan, parish, or even intra-parish level. The first swell of that pressure is, ironically, present in the USCC's breathless invocation of communal glory that contradictorily invites the body of individuals to claim ownership of the Blessed Sacrament: We are the Body of Christ, moving forward to receive the Christ who makes us one with himself and with one another. Our procession should move with dignity; our bearing should be that of those who know they have been redeemed by Christ and are coming to receive their God!". . . If you are the body and members of Christ, then it is your sacrament that is placed on the table of the Lord; it is your sacrament that you receive. We have already seen Bishop X invent his own fillip, the "communal/communion procession" with candles, altar servers, cross-bearers, and its easy but ambiguous symbolism of making the first go last and the last go first to receive from "eucharistic ministers." Are elderly or infirm people who sit in the front pew because they can't easily walk to communion last in the kingdom of God? Or is their going last to communion a sign that they are first in God's kingdom, acknowledging that those who sit in the front pews really are holier than thou? Who can say? Who should care? It is, after all, more important to understand it is "your sacrament that is placed on the table of the Lord; it is your sacrament that you receive" -- under the iron guidance of your bishops and liturgists, of course, whose sentimental innovations will express the General Will, your true individuality, through the collective enforcement of whatever new "style" fits the year, the season, or the day. The USCC's war over the false dichotomy of "individual vs. community" may well create a real dichotomy of "human vs. divine," as men proclaim their de facto ownership of the Sacrament with increasingly-frequent changes and innovations, making the liturgy a moveable cultural feast, because they are chasing that ever-illusive intimacy which can so easily be gained in only a few minutes of the forbidden "privatization" which they have all been taught to abhor. We haven't seen enough yet to assure all and sundry that this will happen, but we have already seen more than enough to worry greatly about it.