Thursday, 28 February 2013

Cardinal Pell on the Pope: what we need now is...

Last night Cardinal Pell made some, in my view, rather graceless and ill-timed criticisms of Pope Benedict XVI on Channel 7.  He is still, apparently, giving interviews.

So let's take a look at what he had to say to the ABC's AM Program this morning.

My comments are in red.

Resignation as a break in tradition?

TONY EASTLEY: Australia's most senior Catholic cleric, Archbishop George Pell, says Pope Benedict made some mistakes in his eight years at the helm of the Church.

Archbishop Pell who's in Rome to participate in the conclave of Cardinals which will elect a new Pope says the Pope Benedict's decision to retire could set a precedent which may be a problem for future leaders...

MARY GEARIN: Can I take you to some comments that many found surprising on this very day of the last address? Part of what you said was that his decision to resign might leave future popes vulnerable and it was taken very much as a criticism of that decision.

GEORGE PELL: I think what I was actually doing in the interview was spelling out the pros and cons [Really?!   What Cardinal Pell actually reportedly said was that it could lead to media pressure on a future pope to resign.  Yet that appears to give credence to media speculation that, despite his clearly stated denials of this, the Pope felt forced into resigning because of assorted scandals.  It also implies that a future Pope would have so far forgotten his Office as to respond to secularist pressures over spiritual imperatives] just as the Pope did to some extent in his address. I said that I accepted his decision; very obviously that's what Cardinals are for. 

He was well aware that this was a break with tradition, slightly destabilising. [I do find it odd that so-called 'conservatives' who have defended so hard the radical reforms of Vatican II to Church practice have suddenly discovered a tradition they actually like. Yet is it really so untraditional?  Surely it is totally consistent with the relatively recent trend of ensuring that those in office are able to do the job - requirements that bishops retire at 75, that Cardinals over 80 don't get to vote in the Conclave, and that the incompetent be asked to resign or removed?]  But he felt that because of his weakness and sickness, which was only too evident today, that he just didn't have the strength to lead the Church in these demanding times.

But he is as well aware as I am of the slight change to the tradition. 

Governance

MARY GEARIN: Other comments you made were more personal, saying that he was a great teacher but government wasn't his strong point. Can you expand on that? Can you say in which way his governance was lacking?

GEORGE PELL: Well there was the Vatileaks. I mean, I think the biggest disappointment was his butler, that he copied so many thousands of pages. [That was surely a betrayal, a Judas within rather than a failure of governance on the Pope's part!] I think the governance is done by most of the people around the Pope and that wasn't always done brilliantly.[True, but anyone who has ever tried to turn around the culture of an organization will have some sympathy for the problems the Pope has encountered.  Indeed, as a bishop Cardinal Pell should surely be a little more sympathetic given his own problems with organizations such as the still regularly hitting the headlines St John's College inter alia.] And I'm not breaking any ground there. This is said very commonly. But the Pope was a magnificent teacher. 

MARY GEARIN: But the Pope could have done more to prevent those leaks?

GEORGE PELL: No, I don't think so. They are most unfortunate. Probably a change of procedures would have made it more difficult but it's very easy to be wise after the event. It was totally unprecedented. [Indeed!]

Sex abuse scandal

MARY GEARIN: Can I ask you also about something else you said - that the sexual abuse scandals facing the Church is not its biggest challenge? They'll be victims of sexual abuse who will find that very, an unacceptable position.

GEORGE PELL: Well what I've said two or three times today is that the sexual abuse scandal is the biggest challenge facing the Church in Australia at the moment.   [That is not quite the issue.  The Cardinal said yesterday that the loss of belief in the West was the biggest challenge facing the Church.  What he doesn't seem to accept is that the two issues are connected - the West cannot be reclaimed unless the Church recovers its moral authority: this was one of the lessons the Church learnt at the time of the Reformation, and surely needs to relearn now!]

Transparency and accountability

MARY GEARIN: And we're going into the conclave now which is obviously, famously secret. Should there be a bit more transparency to this whole process in today's world where we are demanding more accountability from the Church?

GEORGE PELL: Well I mean I've given half a dozen interviews today so, you know, I'm doing my bit.[!] And that'd be, most of the other Cardinals would be doing the same. [Yep, we've all been really enjoying those outrageous tweets and blog posts from Cardinal Mahony].

I think it's quite reasonable that we have some time for a private discussion. [Agreed.  But if you want to do that, don't feed the media frenzy!  I'm all in favour of transparency and accountability as a general principle, and I've said so here on many occasions.  But there are some areas where the frank and fearless discussions need to happen behind closed doors and stay secret. Personally, I think the Cardinals would have been better off sticking to lines like, I'm just listening to what the Church is saying at the moment, or even positively inviting people to tell them their views, but then listening without comment and saying that they are praying for guidance to the Holy Spirit.] But the issues facing the Church are well ventilated and certainly in Australia we attempt regularly to put our side of the question. 

The campaigning has well and truly started!

MARY GEARIN: Is the politicking behind the scenes thick and fast at the moment?

GEORGE PELL: Well politicking is not the word [Really. Could have fooled me.] but any organisation that is lively and vital and growing, there is a creative tension between people who have got different priorities. That's certainly the case in the Church. And I don't know whether it's thick and fast but the dialogue has commenced. 

What should be the qualities of the next Pope?

MARY GEARIN: How would you describe your priorities when you will be voting?

GEORGE PELL: I want somebody who'll maintain the tradition both in faith and especially in morals where it's under attack. I want somebody who is able to speak to the world. And also I would like somebody with strong pastoral experience in a diocese [umm, didn't Pope Benedict XVI actually have that - he was Archbishop of Munich] who is able to lift the morale of the Roman Curia [from all reports it is not their morale that is the problem, but rather their morals!] and perhaps provide a bit more discipline.

There is one obvious quality missing from that list - namely holiness!  Last weekend in The Australian the Cardinal opined that he would be supporting "not necessarily the most holy person, but the person best equipped for the job".  Yet why should do the two qualities necessarily be in conflict?  Saints come in all shapes and sizes, and there have been some great bureaucrat-saints in the past, and more than a few of them have been popes (my personal favourite is Gregory the Great - read his letters - but there are many other examples).  And surely openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit is one of the most important qualities for any officeholder in the Church, let alone the highest one!

I do wonder if part of the reason for the malaise behind the sex abuse scandal is that some of the hierarchy have lost sight of the idea that the purpose of the Church is not to run a huge empire of schools, hospitals and other social services, but rather to get people to heaven.  Running the place, preserving the reputation of the Church, and other such objectives are means to an end, not ends in themselves. 

Pulling the Church together?

In last night's interview, Cardinal Pell also suggested that what is needed now is someone who will 'pull the Church together'.

On that subject, let me close by quoting from a great blog post today from the ever excellent Fr Tim Finigan of the Hermeneutic of continuity blog, reporting on the Pope's last General Audience last night.

He says:

"A fundamental reason why people gather in St Peter's Square and pour out their hearts in prayer and cheering is that the Pope bears the burden of belief for the whole Church. If it were not for Pope Benedict, many Bishops around the world (and some close to home) would long ago have spoken out in favour of women priests, gay marriage, artificial contraception and a host of other aberrant doctrines. What has prevented this from happening is the Holy Father, the successor of Peter who has confirmed his brethren in the faith. An interregnum brings with it a note of disturbing chaos. The announcement Habemus Papam will be applauded with relief and joy even before the name is given."


Thank you Papa Bene!

WYD Sydney

Today is the last day of the Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI (his reign officially ends at 6am Friday Australian Eastern Summer Time), so I thought I would join many others in thanking him for his labours in the vineyard over the last eight years.

The achievements of the Pope, and what is needed now...

There have been a number of interesting and useful analyses of his pontificate and where things now stand already written, and I would particularly recommend these couple:
  • Michael Brendan Dougherty's The unfinished business of Pope Benedict XVI, published at the Sydney Morning Herald (while I don't particularly agree with his overall assessment of where Pope Benedict's approach, it is worth reading for his acute analysis of the mess he inherited from his predecessor  Pope John Paul II alone - I particularly enjoyed the line 'he travelled while Rome burned'!); 
  • Tracey Rowland's piece over at the ABC Religion and Ethics webpage; and
  • John Rao's nice historical perspective on the popes of the Reformation and their effectiveness, and the lessons for today, over at Rorate Caeli.
I don't totally agree with any of the assessments I've read though, so here is my take on his legacy.

I should note that I'm not an ultramontanist, so I don't agree with everything Pope Benedict XVI has said and done.  But in a lot of areas, I don't think he is being given sufficient credit for what he has achieved - though perhaps the full extent of his legacy will take some years to become truly apparent.

1.  Leadership: 'presiding in the love'

Recent Popes have illustrated a number of different possible approaches to the leadership role of the papacy.

We often here it said that the Pope is not, in fact, the CEO of a world-wide organization.  They can't just set the strategy and then expect the organization to set about implementing it (well, maybe they could if they revived the Inquisition, but...).

That hasn't stopped some from behaving as if they were though, and trying to do just that, the most obvious example being the post-Vatican II revolution imposed on the world's Catholics (yes folks, I am a traditionalist, not a conservative!).  Pope Paul VI, for example, issued wads and wads of legislation in the wake of Vatican II, abolishing this and that, freeing things up to experimentation, imposing a new liturgy, and allowing Vatican enforcers, backed up by bishops fired up (or brainwashed depending on your perspective) to force a revolution (sorry 'reform') across the world.

Pope John Paul II tried a different strategy, based largely around the power of personality.  His magisterial teaching contains a lot of 'hard sayings' that we can treasure as important contributions, such as his focus on life issues for example. But the cost was the fostering of a dangerous ultramontanism that held that anything a pope said or did was pretty much infallible.  That might perhaps almost work in an age with less public scrutiny, where far less that a pope says or does ever comes into the public eye, but it is positively dangerous in the modern era in my view (consider for example some of the nuttier versions of theology of the body, and some of the excesses of ecumenism and interfaith relationships).  And while Pope John Paul II fed the cult of his followers, he pretty much ignored those who rejected his line.  That helped cement the great divide in the Church we now have between liberal/progressives and conservatives.

Pope Benedict XVI by contrast, it seems to me, returned to a much earlier model, asserting that the role of Peter is primarily as the guardian of truth, the bishop who 'presides in the love': his task is to set out what the truth is, and lead others to see that truth through his teaching and example; and where necessary, to step in to resolve disputed issues.  To me at least, that is a very appealing approach.

And consistent with that, he has focused, above all, on reasserting orthodoxy (right belief), correcting errors that had become popular in the wake of the 'spirit of the Council'; and orthopraxis (right practice) in the form of the resacralization of the liturgy, and revival of traditions and traditional practices.

Perhaps the single most important aspect of his legacy is the reassertion of the principle lex orandi, lex credendi: the way we pray determines what we believe.  In the decades since Vatican II, the prevailing ideology decreed that practices, even ancient traditions of the Church were not important, all was changeable.  Pope Benedict XVI has reasserted the idea that our beliefs are not just thinks that can be encapsulated in words, but rather are embedded in the culture.

The effects of much of his corrective work will take time to work through: time for a new generation of priests to be exposed to the traditional mass, for example, and have it as a reference point for their approach to liturgy; time for some of those heresies justified by reference to creative or otherwise readings of the Council documents to finally die a death.  But I think over time, as his Magisterial teaching is fully absorbed, I think it will have a huge impact.

Genuine leadership involves making hard choices, saying hard things that many will reject.  But Pope Benedict XVI has also tried to find face-saving formulas that provide a basis for consensus building.  Some of these often seem more pragmatic than perhaps entirely convincing: the two forms of the Roman Rite for example (which are surely in reality two distinct rites!); the principle of continuity with tradition with which to 'interpret' the documents of Vatican II.  Nonetheless, those formulas provide, I think, a basis to rebuild greater genuine unity within the Church, while allowing for legitimate diversity.

Cardinal Pell suggested yesterday that the task of the next Pope will be to pull people together.  Perhaps there is something in this if it means building consensus behind the directions that Pope Benedict XVI has already set in train, using the tools he has devised to achieve this.

But any future Pope would do well to keep firmly in mind that his job is, as Pope Benedict XVI has reminded us, above all, as Christ's vicar, to prevent the Church from falling to the gates of hell, not to be popular or find the easy middle ground between warring factions.

2. The Pope of Christian Unity

I'm not sure whether it was Fr Z who coined the term pope of Christian unity for Pope Benedict XVI, but it is surely a title much deserved.

Pope Benedict has worked hard to refocus ecumenism so as to try and reconcile those closest to the Church, and succeeded at least in the case of the Anglicans with the establishment of the Ordinariates.

His less appreciated work though, I think, has been his efforts to heal the undeclared schism within the Church.  Pope Benedict XVI inherited a Church out of control, where heresy was rife, openly promoted even by bishops.

When Pope Benedict XVI was elected, many thought he would be the great enforcer.  Instead he has attempted to entreat, persuade and rebuke, and encourage. Only when all else has failed has he taken more concrete action.

Turning around opinions, changing minds, and bringing people into line takes time.  And many of us have perhaps been frustrated that things haven't happened faster, and at the realization that some of the bishops who have been replaced have been of the old mold, not the new.

Still, a report today suggests that the pope has been (mostly) quietly cleaning out the episcopacy at the rate of two or three a month.  One shudders to think just how bad one has to be as a bishop to have gotten on the radar (well ok, Australians have a fair sense of that in looking at our share of the culling, some of whom went relatively quietly and one who didn't! +Morris aside, our 'grave reasons' list includes, after all +Power of Canberra, +Malone of Newcastle, and +Toohey of Wilcannia-Forbes ).

Allowing time to take its course has worked before, while going in too hard has provoked outright, declared schism.  Either way, souls are at stake, so its a prudential judgment involved.  But he may well prove to have jumped the right way.

3.  Cleaning up the cesspit

Perhaps the single most important thing that Pope Benedict XVI did though, was his early action to remove Fr Marciel from any active role in the Church.  It set the stage for the action that has occurred, and, together with Pope Benedict's clear acknowledgement of the problem, and genuine engagement with the victims of the abuse scandal, has done a world of good.

Moreover, while many continue to dance around the issue, and focus on the paedophile fringe, Pope Benedict XVI clearly recognized that the bigger problem is not paedophilia but active homosexuals (given that 80% of abuse cases involved same sex relationships with adolescents, not children).  That is why he has clearly asserted that those with homosexual inclinations cannot become priests.

The problem is far from solved of course, not least because many members of the  hierarchy continue to portray the whole problem as an anti-Catholic media plot, Pope Benedict XVI's comments to the contrary notwithstanding.  Some even see themselves, and not those they failed to protect, as the victims.  Perhaps in some cases that is understandable, because some have made false accusations, while others are clearly motivated by issues other than justice for victims.

But Pope Benedict XVI recognized that the moral authority of the Church is at stake in this, and has acted accordingly. Let's hope his successor also gets it.

Of course, the other cesspit is, on the face of it, the Curia itself.  It is true that Pope Benedict XVI doesn't seem to have made any serious inroads in the problems therein, or in dragging its bureaucracy into the twenty-first century. But perhaps, in correcting at least the worst excesses of doctrine and praxis of recent years, he has at least laid the groundwork that will enable his successors to succeed at that daunting task.

Please keep the soon to be pope-emeritus in your prayers.

Psalms of Tenebrae/14 - Psalm 146: The Lord builds up Jerusalem

Codex Egberti, c980-993
Tenebrae for Maundy Thursday ends, so far as the psalms go, on a rather upbeat note that reminds us that everything will come out all right in the end!

In the Hebrew Masoretic Text Psalm 146 becomes the first half of Psalm 147, but that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, for the two are clearly quite distinct psalms.

On building up the Church

The emphasis of this (part of the) psalm is on all the things we should praise God for in the hear and now - particularly his work of Creation; his ongoing providential care of his creation; and especially his care for the downtrodden and brokenhearted.

Above all, this psalm reminds us of the purpose of Christ's mission and that of the Church in this period following the Resurrection: though the body of his Temple is about to be destroyed, yet "The Lord builds up Jerusalem: he will gather together the dispersed of Israel."


In the previous Canticle, the Eucharist was presented as the key to this task.  This psalm points to the things that flow from it, necessary to bring the message of hope and God's mercy to all.

We are all called to lend our hands to God for this task in our own way.  We can help buildup the Church through our prayers and offerings, and especially participation in the liturgy; through our works of charity in aiding the downtrodden; and through our preaching and teaching conveyed both in words, and more importantly action.


Psalm 146

Laudáte Dóminum quóniam bonus est psalmus: * Deo nostro sit jucúnda, decóraque laudátio.
Ædíficans Jerúsalem Dóminus: * dispersiónes Israël congregábit.
Qui sanat contrítos corde: * et álligat contritiónes eórum.
Qui númerat multitúdinem stellárum: * et ómnibus eis nómina vocat.
Magnus Dóminus noster, et magna virtus ejus: * et sapiéntiæ ejus non est númerus.
Suscípiens mansuétos Dóminus: * humílians autem peccatóres usque ad terram.
Præcínite Dómino in confessióne: * psállite Deo nostro in cíthara.
Qui óperit cælum núbibus: * et parat terræ plúviam.
Qui prodúcit in móntibus fœnum: * et herbam servitúti hóminum.
Qui dat juméntis escam ipsórum: * et pullis corvórum invocántibus eum.
Non in fortitúdine equi voluntátem habébit: * nec in tíbiis viri beneplácitum erit ei.
Beneplácitum est Dómino super timéntes eum: * et in eis, qui sperant super misericórdia ejus.

Praise the Lord, because psalm is good: to our God be joyful and comely praise. The Lord builds up Jerusalem: he will gather together the dispersed of Israel.
Who heals the broken of heart, and binds up their bruises.
Who tells the number of the stars: and calls them all by their names.
Great is our Lord, and great is his power: and of his wisdom there is no number.
The Lord lifts up the meek, and brings the wicked down even to the ground.
Sing to the Lord with praise: sing to our God upon the harp.
Who covers the heaven with clouds, and prepares rain for the earth.
Who makes grass to grow on the mountains, and herbs for the service of men.
Who gives to beasts their food: and to the young ravens that call upon him.
He shall not delight in the strength of the horse: nor take pleasure in the legs of a man.
The Lord takes pleasure in them that fear him: and in them that hope in his mercy.

Tenebrae of Holy Thursday

Nocturn I: Psalms 68, 69, 70
Nocturn II: Psalms 71, 72, 73
Nocturn III: Psalms 74, 75, 76
Lauds: 50, 89, 35, [Ex 15], 146

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Pell's graceless comments on the resignation of the Pope

I keep reading comments to the effect that Cardinal Pell is well regarded around the world, and thus may be less of a long shot to be pope than we here in Oz might think.

If so, let's hope his latest comments will give the Cardinal-electors pause, for they are a classic illustration of his frequently demonstrated problem of foot in microphone disease.

A poor Pope and a worse example?

Most people at the moment are focusing on the positive legacy Pope Benedict XVI leaves behind.

But in an interview on Channel Seven from Rome, criticised him for resigning, and took a few potshots at him as pope, suggesting that he had performed poorly on Church governance.  On the next Pope he said:

"He's got to know his theology, but I think I'd prefer... someone who can lead the church and pull it together a bit".

Whether or not you agree with Cardinal Pell's assessment (and I don't as I'll explain in a post on the Pope Benedict XVI's legacy in the next day or two), they seem extraordinarily graceless at this particular moment, on the eve of Pope Benedict's retirement.

Pell's priorities!

Even worse though, was his dismissal of the child sex abuse and homosexual infiltration of the priesthood and Curia as real issues facing the Church.

According to this interview, Cardinal Pell sees the key issue as the loss of belief and believers from the Church in the first world.

Apparently, he sees no connection between the failure to teach and uphold traditional morality over the last several decades, the loss of the Church's moral authority as a result of the scandals, and the problem of atheism:

"Despite all the controversies, George Pell said that priest paedophilia and sex abuse scandals are not the greatest issue facing his church.

He said that the loss of belief and believers was the greatest challenge facing the Church.

"No, no, I think [the biggest problem] is the spread of unbelief in the first world," the Cardinal said.

The moral authority problem

Now I'm prepared to agree that the sex abuse scandal and related issues are not the only issue facing the Church that the next Pope will have to tackle.

In reality the biggest problem facing most Catholics in the world is probably persecution, and this something recent Popes haven't much focused on: in the third world the problem comes, in the main, from the resurgence of extremist versions of Islam; in the first world, from the threats posed by an increasingly militantly secularist society.

When it comes to the rise of unbelief in the West, I'm not terribly convinced the West can be saved.  For all of George Weigel and others arguments about the need for the next Pope to be a salesman for the New Evangelization, we've been there and tried that with John Paul II.  Frankly, the 'New Springtime' looks no closer today than it did back in 1979 and I suspect it is time to try a completely different strategy.

But even if you don't agree with this view, surely it is obvious that if there is any chance at all of turning the tide, it depends on the Church being clear about what it stands for, making sure it gets that message out consistently, and that it has the moral authority to be heard.

It is entirely to Pope Benedict XVI's credit that we have started to see - despite the best efforts of many Curial officials and diocesan bishops to undermine him and resist - the recovery of the certainties of the faith in both morals and doctrine.

It is also entirely due to his efforts, as far as I can see, that we have started to see Catholic charities, hospitals and educational institutions actually being required to act in ways consistent with the faith.

And it is due to his leadership that at least a healthy start  - acknowledging that there seems to be a long way to go still - has been made on clearing out the filth in the Church that appears to reach into even the highest levels of the hierarchy.

The compassion deficit

One of the biggest impediments though, to the Church moving forward in countries like Australia and the United States is the apparent deficit, on the part of many in the hierarchy, of genuine compassion for, empathy with, and outreach to the victims of the abuse scandal.

No one has been able (to date at least, the Royal Commission has yet to start!) point to any complicity of Cardinal Pell in the cover up, and they've certainly tried.

But they certainly have been able to point to more than a few cases where he has displayed an utter lack of empathy and sympathy for victims in his (few) meetings with them; worse, they have been able to point to his past moral support out of 'priestly solidarity' to some of Australia's vilest abusers.

His latest comments will not encourage anyone to think he has gained any greater understanding of the depth of the laity's feelings on this issue.

Pell for Pope?

I hadn't actually planned to do anything on the merits of the various candidates for Pope, but since some seem to be out there campaigning, let me conclude with a few of my own views on Australia's only Cardinal, who commented in response to a question on his chances:

“I’m Catholic, I’m a bishop, I’m a Cardinal, [I’m young] by papal standards, but yes it’s a very outside long shot.”

As a bishop, Cardinal Pell has made many positive contributions to the Australian Church, and he deserves a lot of credit for those.

But for every plus, there is a counterbalancing minus.

He has famously done some cleaning out from time to time (most noticeably at the Melbourne Seminary).  And yet his current diocese continues to host one of those Soho-style gay Masses, as well as more than a few vocally seemingly heterodox priests.

He has celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass on many occasions, and allowed traditionalists space long before Summorum Pontificum.  And yet by all accounts has no genuine liturgical sensibility (the turgid style of the missal, improvement though it is on what came before, and the controversial new altar of his cathedral, being cases in point).

He certainly deserves credit for his defense of religious freedom in Australia, including building some interfaith partnerships in support of this.  But why oh why did he feel the need to host a Muslim Iftar dinner during Ramadan?

He has certainly been an active media performer.  Yet not always with exactly the results one might hope for, as evidenced by his poor performance in his tv debate with Richard Dawkins, and his comments immediately before the Royal Commission on sex abuse was announced here.   Similarly, his (in my view eccentric) views on things like climate change have made him a darling of some American conservatives, but has, in my view, tended to undermine both his own and the Churches credibility in the public square in Australia.

And when it comes to the ability to pick the right people - many of the picks for bishops for other dioceses under his watch have proved a mixed bag indeed, including a number of utter disasters (some since retired in disgrace, but others still in place).

Pell for Pope?  Please God, no!

Psalms of Tenebrae/13 - Exodus 15: The Lord is a man of war



We come today to one of the 'psalms', or  Office canticles, not actually from the book of psalms, but rather from Exodus 15:1-19.

Up until now the psalms of Tenebrae have largely focused on Our Lord's prayer in the Garden, and his arrest.  This canticle, though, takes us back to the Last Supper as the ninth century commentator Hrabanus Maurus tells us in his commentary on the Office canticles:

 “For on Thursday justly is sung the song of the Israelites, which they sung after the pasch celebrating being freed from Egypt and conveyed through the Red Sea dry foot.  For on the same day our saviour figuratively celebrating the pasch with his disciples, he offered the paschal mystery continuing in the sacrament of his body and blood and in this immolation of the lamb, who takes away the sins of the world.”

A psalm of victory

The whole canticle is actually a rather joyously upbeat hymn of victory.

But why then a victory psalm for Maundy Thursday?

We have become accustomed, I think, to dwelling, perhaps unduly, on the sufferings of Christ in considering the Triduum.

By contrast, the Fathers often tended to see the events of Easter more as the triumphant fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption to his people, foreshadowed in these Old Testament events.

Scriptural context

The Scriptural context around this Canticle is important.

Before the Canticle, in Exodus Chapter 12-13, we read of the people of Israel celebrating that first Pasch, marking the doors of their houses with the blood of the lamb to protect them against the avenging angels who slew the first-born of Israel.  Moses then leads the people out of Egypt, but the Egyptians pursue.  The people are terrified, wishing that they had not followed Moses (Exodus 14) – until he miraculously parts the Red Sea to let them cross, and then lets the waters flow back drowning the pursuing Egyptians.

The people rejoice, and this canticle (and the attribution formula suggests that it was actually Miriam, sister of Aaron rather than Moses) is then sung (Chapter 15).

Yet no sooner is this song sung than Exodus records that the people are once more murmuring against Moses, this time complaining at the lack of food and water, foreshadowing perhaps those dark and desolate days of Good Friday and Holy Saturday when the Mass is not celebrated.  But then in Chapter 16, the miracle of the manna in the desert, that second foreshadowing of the Eucharist, of the Resurrection, is recorded.

The Lord is a man of war

This canticle perhaps points us to consider a slightly different emphasis to our meditations on the Cross for the moment.  It should remind us that the sufferings of Christ are part of the eternal battle against sin and its effects; against those whose hearts have been so hardened that they plot against God and his people.

It should be a reminder that our own sins put Christ on the Cross, and that we must war against them, led by the God who is a man of war, yet paradoxically also the Prince of Peace; and strengthened by the Paschal sacrifice he offers for us.

Exodus 15:1-19

Cantémus Dómino: glorióse enim magnificátus est, * equum et ascensórem dejécit in mare.
Fortitúdo mea, et laus mea Dóminus, * et factus est mihi in salútem.
Iste Deus meus, et glorificábo eum: * Deus patris mei, et exaltábo eum.
Dóminus quasi vir pugnátor, Omnípotens nomen ejus. * Currus Pharaónis et exércitum ejus projécit in mare.
Elécti príncipes ejus submérsi sunt in mari Rubro: * abyssi operuérunt eos, descendérunt in profúndum quasi lapis.
Déxtera tua, Dómine, magnificáta est in fortitúdine: déxtera tua, Dómine, percússit inimícum. * Et in multitúdine glóriæ tuæ deposuísti adversários meos.
Misísti iram tuam, quæ devorávit eos sicut stípulam. * Et in spíritu furóris tui congregátæ sunt aquæ:
Stetit unda fluens, * congregátæ sunt abyssi in médio mari.
Dixit inimícus: Pérsequar et comprehéndam, * dívidam spólia, implébitur ánima mea:
Evaginábo gládium meum, * interfíciet eos manus mea.
Flavit spíritus tuus, et opéruit eos mare: * submérsi sunt quasi plumbum in aquis veheméntibus.
Quis símilis tui in fórtibus, Dómine? * quis símilis tui, magníficus in sanctitáte, terríbilis atque laudábilis, fáciens mirabília?
Extendísti manum tuam, et devorávit eos terra. * Dux fuísti in misericórdia tua pópulo quem redemísti:
Et portásti eum in fortitúdine tua, * ad habitáculum sanctum tuum.
Ascendérunt pópuli, et iráti sunt: * dolóres obtinuérunt habitatóres Philísthiim.
Tunc conturbáti sunt príncipes Edom, robústos Moab obtínuit tremor: * obriguérunt omnes habitatóres Chánaan.
Irruat super eos formído et pavor, * in magnitúdine bráchii tui:
Fiant immóbiles quasi lapis, donec pertránseat pópulus tuus, Dómine, * donec pertránseat pópulus tuus iste, quem possedísti.
Introdúces eos, et plantábis in monte hereditátis tuæ, * firmíssimo habitáculo tuo quod operátus es, Dómine.
Sanctuárium tuum, Dómine, quod firmavérunt manus tuæ. * Dóminus regnábit in ætérnum et ultra.
Ingréssus est enim eques Phárao cum cúrribus et equítibus ejus in mare: * et redúxit super eos Dóminus aquas maris:
Fílii autem Israël ambulavérunt per siccum * in médio ejus.

And the translation:

Let us sing to the Lord: for he is gloriously magnified, the horse and the rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my praise, and he has become salvation to me: he is my God, and I will glorify him: the God of my father, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is as a man of war, Almighty is his name.
Pharao's chariots and his army he has cast into the sea: his chosen captains are drowned in the Red Sea.
The depths have covered them, they are sunk to the bottom like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, is magnified in strength: your right hand, O Lord, has slain the enemy.
And in the multitude of your glory you have put down your adversaries: you have sent your wrath, which has devoured them like stubble.
And with the blast of your anger the waters were gathered together: the flowing water stood, the depths were gathered together in the midst of the sea.
The enemy said: I will pursue and overtake, I will divide the spoils, my soul shall have its fill: I will draw my sword, my hand shall slay them.
Your wind blew and the sea covered them: they sunk as lead in the mighty waters.
Who is like to you, among the strong, O Lord? Who is like to you, glorious in holiness, terrible and praise-worthy, doing wonders?
You stretched forth your hand, and the earth swallowed them. In your mercy you have been a leader to the people which you have redeemed: and in your strength you have carried them to your holy habitation.
Nations rose up, and were angry: sorrows took hold on the inhabitants of Philisthiim.
Then were the princes of Edom troubled, trembling seized on the stout men of Moab: all the inhabitants of Chanaan became stiff.
Let fear and dread fall upon them, in the greatness of your arm: let them become immoveable as a stone, until your people, O Lord, pass by: until this your people pass by, which you have possessed.
You shall bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, in your most firm habitation, which you have made, O Lord;
your sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.
For Pharao went in on horseback with his chariots and horsemen into the sea: and the Lord brought back upon them the waters of the sea:
but the children of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst thereof

Tenebrae of Holy Thursday

Nocturn I: Psalms 68, 69, 70
Nocturn II: Psalms 71, 72, 73
Nocturn III: Psalms 74, 75, 76
Lauds: 50, 89, 35, [Ex 15], 146

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Cardinal O'Brien does the right thing...now if only Mahony and co would follow suit!

Well, at least one of the scandals surrounding the Cardinal-electors has come to an abrupt end, at least for the moment, with the announcement that the Pope has removed Cardinal Keith O'Brien of Scotland from his position as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and the Cardinal's own announcement that he will not attend the Conclave.

Not an admission of guilt?

I don't think we should necessarily see this as an admission of guilt on the Cardinal's part, or a final judgment on the issue by the Pope.

It is not clear that there has yet been a proper investigation of the claims, and he has previously indicated that he rejects them.

It is true of course that we've heard claims of innocence many times before from the guilty, and a reputation as a progressive doesn't help one's cause in this area.  Still, the Cardinal is entitled to some chance to have the claims properly tested.

Either way, though, the accusations of four priests (whose decision to go public was perhaps a shocked response to the perceived hypocrisy of the Cardinal's assorted comments) have to be treated as credible on the face of it, necessitating urgent action on the part of the Pope.

The Cardinal was already over 75 and thus had already tendered his resignation and had it accepted.  The Pope formally setting the date for its effect was the only way to handle the potential scandal in the circumstances.

The Cardinal problem

Removal from Office as a bishop is one thing though, but why has the Pope hesitated to remove those accused or actually guilty of crimes from the Office of Cardinal?

Perhaps in this particular case the decision not to depose him from Office or force his resignation as a Cardinal reflects the fact that the processes haven't been completed.  But there are plenty of cases where the evidence of improper behaviour on the part of men who remain Cardinals is reasonably clear cut (think Cardinal Law, for example, thankfully excluded from voting by virtue of being over 80).

In this particular case the Pope or his representatives may perhaps have gently suggested staying away from the Conclave.  Yet O'Brien remains a Cardinal - so, like other controversial Cardinals, he could have chosen to turn up if he wished.

Indeed, the Motu Proprio released by the Pope overnight that allows for an earlier Conclave should the Cardinals agree also reaffirms that no one can exclude a Cardinal-elector who wishes to participate in the conclave from doing so.

Whether or not Cardinal O'Brien is guilty of anything, that he has chosen to stay away in order to avoid further controversy is entirely to his credit.

Would that some others would follow this lead.

Psalms of Tenebrae/12 - Psalm 35


The opening lines of today's psalm, Psalm 35 (36), are words those in the Church whose past misdeeds are still to come fully to light, should especially ponder:

"Deep in his heart the sinner hears the whispering of evil, and loses sight of the fear of God; flatters himself with the thought that his misdoings go undiscovered, earn no reproof.(Knox translation)

Yet though those guilty of the most vile crimes should especially heed this lesson of this psalm, St Paul points out that we are all, to some degree, evil men at times, standing in need of grace through Christ's redeeming action to save us and help us persevere in the Christian life.

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

The context of the psalm's discussion on the nature of evil in this setting is obviously the arrest and coming Passion of Our Lord, but it obviously has a broad applicability.

Too often today, modern 'theology' confuses God's love for us with his approval of our actions, regardless of their actual merit.  By contrast this psalm reminds us that true evil occurs when man acts with malice aforethought: when we actively reject the truth, and refuse to turn away from the horror of what we are doing. Self-deception, the psalmist suggests, is all too easy.

Yet for such men, for all those Judas' in the Church, great and small, a time of reckoning will come:

"See what a fall awaits the wrong-doers, how they are cast down to earth, and can keep their feet no more!

The psalm goes on to point out that even in the face of man’s tendency to evil, God offers truth, justice and mercy to all, reaching down from the heavens.  Through Christ's sacrifice on the Cross we are offered the fountain of life, and access to the light.  The psalm ends with a plea to keep us humble, and to protect us from being led astray, knowing that evil doers come to nothing in the end.

Psalm 35

Dixit injustus ut delinquat in semetipso: non est timor Dei ante oculos ejus.  Quoniam dolose egit in conspectu ejus, ut inveniatur iniquitas ejus ad odium. Verba oris ejus iniquitas, et dolus; noluit intelligere ut bene ageret.
Iniquitatem meditatus est in cubili suo; astitit omni viæ non bonæ : malitiam autem non odivit.
Domine, in cælo misericordia tua, et veritas tua usque ad nubes.
Justitia tua sicut montes Dei; judicia tua abyssus multa.
Homines et jumenta salvabis, Domine, quemadmodum multiplicasti misericordiam tuam, Deus.
Filii autem hominum in tegmine alarum tuarum sperabunt.
Inebriabuntur ab ubertate domus tuæ, et torrente voluptatis tuæ potabis eos:  quoniam apud te est fons vitæ, et in lumine tuo videbimus lumen.
Prætende misericordiam tuam scientibus te, et justitiam tuam his qui recto sunt corde.
Non veniat mihi pes superbiæ, et manus peccatoris non moveat me.
Ibi ceciderunt qui operantur iniquitatem; expulsi sunt, nec potuerunt stare.

The unjust has said within himself, that he would sin: there is no fear of God before his eyes.
For in his sight he has done deceitfully, that his iniquity may be found unto hatred.
The words of his mouth are iniquity and guile: he would not understand that he might do well.
He has devised iniquity on his bed, he has set himself on every way that is not good: but evil he has not hated.
O Lord, your mercy is in heaven, and your truth reaches even to the clouds.  Your justice is as the mountains of God, your judgments are a great deep.
Men and beasts you will preserve, O Lord: O how have you multiplied your mercy, O God!
But the children of men shall put their trust under the covert of your wings.
They shall be inebriated with the plenty of your house; and you shall make them drink of the torrent of your pleasure.
For with you is the fountain of life; and in your light we shall see light.
Extend your mercy to them that know you, and your justice to them that are right in heart.
Let not the foot of pride come to me, and let not the hand of the sinner move me. There the workers of iniquity are fallen, they are cast out, and could not stand.

Tenebrae of Holy Thursday

Nocturn I: Psalms 68, 69, 70
Nocturn II: Psalms 71, 72, 73
Nocturn III: Psalms 74, 75, 76
Lauds: 50, 89, 35, [Ex 15], 146

Monday, 25 February 2013

Psalms of Tenebrae/11 - Psalm 89: Have we made a difference?

The arrest of Jesus, c1500

Today we move to the Lauds proportion of Tenebrae for Maundy Thursday.  We've already looked at Psalm 50, the Miserere, that opens up this hour, so today a brief look at Psalm 89.

One could also see the psalm as recapitulating the purpose of the Passion and Resurrection, for there is a progression in what the psalmist is asking for here: first for God to relent in his punishment of mankind (v3-12); secondly, to reveal his power and teach us wisdom (v14); and finally to fill his people with grace and blessings (v14-17).

A psalm of Moses

Psalm 89 is the only psalm attributed to Moses in the psalter, and he is also the author of the canticle that forms part of this Lauds (from Exodus 15).  Some interpret this psalm as having been written at the end of Moses’ life, gazing into the Promised Land, yet not allowed to enter it himself, and begging for God to have mercy on the remnant that still survived of those who came out of Egypt.  Thus Moses stands on our behalf, begging Christ to save us through his Passion.

The psalm points first to the divinity of Christ, reminding us that: “Before the mountains were made, or the earth and the world was formed; from eternity and to eternity you are God.” (v2)  Thus, it reminds us of the two natures of the Christ, so critical to what is to come.

The next verse, at least in the Septuagint/Vulgate version (yet curiously reversed in meaning in the later Hebrew Masoretic Text!), continues the plea set up in the previous psalms for God not to abandon man: Turn not man away to be brought low (v3).  Certainly the Fathers saw the following plea for God to have pity and convert men, and v15’s ‘Return, O Lord, how long? And be entreated in favour of your servants’, in the context of the discussion on the shortness of man’s life, in verses 6-11, as allusions to the consequences of Adam’s sin: we too would be immortal but for it.

Have we made a difference?

One can also take the discussion on the shortness of man’s life in contrast to the eternity of God (vv 2, 4&5) as part of a kind of dialogue between the human and divine natures of the Saviour, pointing to the shortness of Christ’s life on earth, a time that he was obviously reluctant to cut short, the divine plan notwithstanding.

Some commentaries on this psalm see it as in part the lament of a man facing death and wondering whether he has really made a difference with his life.  That is obviously not an issue that faced Our Lord, but the psalm's emphasis on the transient nature, and shortness of human life on earth should serve as a reminder to keep our focus on eternity and what matters.

Christ's public ministry was short, and so far as the world viewed it, cut off ignominiously.  Yet the effects of his ministry resound to the ends of the universe.  In our own small way we too each have a mission to carry out, a difference to make in ways that may not be obvious to anyone, including ourselves.   So let us head the words of the psalm, ignore the perceptions of the world, and 'be converted'!

Psalm 89 (90)

Domine, refugium factus es nobis a generatione in generationem.
Priusquam montes fierent, aut formaretur terra et orbis, a sæculo et usque in sæculum tu es, Deus.
Ne avertas hominem in humilitatem : et dixisti : convertimini, filii hominum.
Quoniam mille anni ante oculos tuos tamquam dies hesterna quæ præteriit:
et custodia in nocte, quæ pro nihilo habentur, eorum anni erunt.
Mane sicut herba transeat; mane floreat, et transeat; vespere decidat, induret, et arescat.
Quia defecimus in ira tua, et in furore tuo turbati sumus.
Posuisti iniquitates nostras in conspectu tuo; sæculum nostrum in illuminatione vultus tui.
Quoniam omnes dies nostri defecerunt, et in ira tua defecimus.
Anni nostri sicut aranea meditabuntur; dies annorum nostrorum in ipsis septuaginta anni.
Si autem in potentatibus octoginta anni, et amplius eorum labor et dolor;
quoniam supervenit mansuetudo, et corripiemur.
Quis novit potestatem iræ tuæ, et præ timore tuo iram tuam dinumerare? Dexteram tuam sic notam fac, et eruditos corde in sapientia.
Convertere, Domine; usquequo? et deprecabilis esto super servos tuos.
Repleti sumus mane misericordia tua; et exsultavimus, et delectati sumus omnibus diebus nostris.
Lætati sumus pro diebus quibus nos humiliasti; annis quibus vidimus mala.
Respice in servos tuos et in opera tua, et dirige filios eorum.
Et sit splendor Domini Dei nostri super nos, et opera manuum nostrarum dirige super nos, et opus manuum nostrarum dirige.

And the translation:

Lord, you have been our refuge from generation to generation.
Before the mountains were made, or the earth and the world was formed; from eternity and to eternity you are God.
Turn not man away to be brought low: and you have said: Be converted, O you sons of men.
For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday, which is past.
And as a watch in the night, things that are counted nothing, shall their years be.
In the morning man shall grow up like grass; in the morning he shall flourish and pass away: in the evening he shall fall, grow dry, and wither.
For in your wrath we have fainted away: and are troubled in your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before your eyes: our life in the light of your countenance.
For all our days are spent; and in your wrath we have fainted away. Our years shall be considered as a spider: The days of our years in them are threescore and ten years.
But if in the strong they be fourscore years: and what is more of them is labour and sorrow.
For mildness has come upon us: and we shall be corrected.
Who knows the power of your anger, and for your fear can number your wrath? So make your right hand known: and men learned in heart, in wisdom.
Return, O Lord, how long? And be entreated in favour of your servants.
We are filled in the morning with your mercy: and we have rejoiced, and are delighted all our days.
We have rejoiced for the days in which you have humbled us: for the years in which we have seen evils.
Look upon your servants and upon their works: and direct their children.
And let the brightness of the Lord our God be upon us: and direct the works of our hands over us; yea, the work of our hands do you direct.

Tenebrae of Holy Thursday

Nocturn I: Psalms 68, 69, 70
Nocturn II: Psalms 71, 72, 73
Nocturn III: Psalms 74, 75, 76
Lauds: 50, 89, 35, [Ex 15], 146

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The duty of Cardinals to vote?

The Vatican has hit back today, at assorted calls for certain Cardinals not to attend the upcoming conclave to elect the Pope, the expression of views on who might make a good pope, and the claims of scandalous behaviour on the part of assorted Curia officials.

Yesterday Cardinal Pell was reported in the Australian as calling on the Vatican Press Office to respond “in some constructive way” to the reports of a web of  blackmail, corruption and homosexual sex inside the Vatican.  He was right.

But instead the response is neither to confirm or deny the reports, and to attack the media for daring to raise any questions about the election at all!

Unfortunately this kind of line just confirms all of our views about the weakness of Vatican media management, and the need for major internal reforms!

False stories?  So why not deny them!

The basic response, set out in a Communique from the Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone that the stories are calumny or detraction on the part of people out to get the Church, and the media should just keep quiet:

"It is deplorable that, as we draw closer to the moment that the Conclave will begin and the Cardinal electors will be held—in conscience and before God—to freely express their choice, there is a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable, or even completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions."

It is true that the latest claims about corruption and homosexual infiltration of the Curia seem to be unverified.

But whether or not they are in fact included in the report to the Pope on the Vatileaks scandal as has been claimed, there is absolutely nothing new about such claims, nor, on the face of it, are they entirely unfounded.

And if they are indeed untrue, why has the Vatican announced that it will neither confirm or deny them?!

Moreover, the calls for certain Cardinals to sit out the conclave are not based on mere speculation, but on police and court actions and diocesan documents

Are Catholics entitled to have a view on who should be Pope and express it?

Cardinal Bertone also dismisses assorted commentaries on who should be Pope on the grounds that they constitute attempt to pressure the Cardinals:

"Over the course of the centuries, Cardinals have had to face many forms of pressures, exerted upon individual electors or upon the College of Cardinals itself, that sought to influence their decisions, following a political or worldly logic.

If in the past the so-called powers, i.e., States, sought to influence the election of the Pope, today there is an attempt to do this through public opinion, which is often based on judgements that do not capture the typically spiritual aspect of this moment that the Church is living."

It is true of course that some of the secular outlets have their own agendas.

All the same, I think that the Cardinal electors are entitled to hear what Catholics think about the state of the Church, and thus what is needed, as well as on some of the possible candidates.  Indeed, canon law itself enshrines the right of the faithful to express their views on these kind of subjects.

There is, in my view, a big difference between expressing an opinion, which the Cardinals can choose to accept or reject, and attempting to improperly influence a vote.

Cardinals under pressure

The real issue at stake here is whether some of the Cardinals really are able to make a free choice of candidate, or whether they will feel impelled to vote someone either because they have been blackmailed to do so, or fear what action a particular candidate might take against them if elected.

To take an extreme case, will a Mahony or Daneels vote for a candidate who promises to depose and degrade all bishops who mishandled the abuse crisis?  I think not!

Will a curial Cardinal who fears he may be sacked by a new broom vote for such a candidate?  Well, not knowingly anyway (though there have been papal candidates in the past who perhaps concealed their true agendas in the interest of getting elected and then proceeded to do the job that was needed!).

And that is why those Cardinals who no longer meet the requirements of that office - that is, are not 'truly outstanding in doctrine, virtue, piety and prudence in practical matters' as Canon 251 of the Code provides - should be encouraged and allowed to stay at home.

A duty to vote?

Fr Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office has been quoted as saying Cardinals have a duty to vote.  In saying that he is simply repeating the terms of Pope John Paul II's Universi Dominici Gregis, which sets out the rules around the Conclave:

"All the Cardinal electors, convoked for the election of the new Pope by the Cardinal Dean, or by another Cardinal in his name, are required, in virtue of holy obedience, to obey the announcement of convocation and to proceed to the place designated for this purpose..."

I'm not a canonist but it seems to me that there are perhaps five ways around this provision.

First, it is possible that Pope Benedict XVI will do a last minute amendment to this on the timing of the Conclave - he could also provide an out for certain Cardinals.  That is pretty unlikely though.

Secondly, although again extremely unlikely, it is not too late for the Cardinals concerned to resign their office with the consent of the current Pope - or be deposed from Office.  Given the defiance expressed by Cardinal Mahony, however, the first course seems unlikely (though stranger things have been known to happen), and surely Pope Benedict XVI would already have acted if he intended to.

Thirdly, a Cardinal can be excused by reason of 'sickness or some other grave impediment' (para 38).  The College of Cardinals has to recognize the case though, and given the noise coming out of the Vatican, perhaps that is unlikely.

The fourth possibility is for a Cardinal to refuse to enter the Conclave, or having entered, leave without proper excuse (para 40), in which case the remaining Cardinal electors are free to proceed without him.  The virtue of 'holy obedience' hardly applies, after all, to one who has so violated his office as pastor as some seem to have.

And the final possibility is for divine action.

Whatever way things go, there is one part of Cardinal Bertone's statement that we can perhaps all agree on, and that is that we should be:

"...praying for Pope Benedict, praying that the Holy Spirit might enlighten the College of Cardinals, and praying for the future Pope, confident that the future of the barque of Peter is in God's hands."

Latin prayer of the week: Veni Creator Spiritus


Given the upcoming enclave to elect a new pope, I thought an appropriate prayer for the week might be the Veni Creator Spiritus, an entreaty for the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit that is traditionally used (amongst many other occasions) when the Cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel to conduct the election.

It has a partial indulgence attached to it, so do say it a lot over the next week or two!

This wonderful hymn was written by the ninth century monk Hrabanus Maurus, who also wrote a number of excellent commentaries on Scripture, religious and clerical life.

This is the version of the text included in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Veni, creátor Spíritus,
mentes tuórum vísita,
imple supérna grátia,
quæ tu creásti péctora.

Qui díceris Paráclitus,
altíssimi donum Dei,
fons vivus, ignis, cáritas,
et spiritális únctio.

Tu septifórmis múnere,
dígitus patérnæ déxteræ,
tu rite promíssum Patris,
sermóne ditans gúttura.

Accénde lumen sénsibus,
infúnde amórem córdibus,
infírma nostri córporis
virtúte firmans pérpeti.

Hostem repéllas lóngius
pacémque dones prótinus;
ductóre sic te prævio
vitémus omne nóxium.

Per Te sciámus da Patrem
noscámus atque Fílium,
teque utriúsque Spíritum
credámus omni témpore.

Deo Patri sit glória,
et Fílio, qui a mórtuis
surréxit, ac Paráclito,
in sæculórum sæcula. Amen.

And there is the English version provided in the Compendium:


Come, Holy Spirit, Creator come,
From your bright heavenly throne!
Come, take possession of our souls,
And make them all your own.

You who are called the Paraclete,
Best gift of God above,
The living spring, the living fire,
Sweet unction, and true love!

You who are sevenfold in your grace,
Finger of God's right hand,
His promise, teaching little ones
To speak and understand!

O guide our minds with your blessed light,
With love our hearts inflame,
And with your strength which never decays
Confirm our mortal frame.

Far from us drive our hellish foe
True peace unto us bring,
And through all perils guide us safe
Beneath your sacred wing.

Through you may we the Father know,
Through you the eternal Son
And you the Spirit of them both
Thrice-blessed three in one.

All glory to the Father be,
And to the risen Son;
The same to you, O Paraclete,
While endless ages run. Amen.



Saturday, 23 February 2013

Surely there is a better way of electing the Pope?

There has been a run of stories since the announcement of Pope Benedict XVI's abdication that can only fill Catholics with a sense of horror as the weaknesses in the Church's governance are exposed to the world.

There is nothing new in such a state of affairs of course: several popes of the tenth century and at the time of the Renaissance are well known to have been vile sinners. Fractured and dysfunctional government of the Church (think Avignon for example) has perhaps more often been the rule than otherwise.

But this is the twenty-first century, and such things cannot readily be hidden from the eyes of the world.

God doesn't choose the Pope, men do!

Surely the most important question we face at the moment is whether the current group of Cardinal-electors are capable of electing the person needed to do the job.

We pray very hard, of course, for them to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in this.

But God operates through men in his governance of the Church, and he leaves men free will.

The consequence of this is that men can refuse to listen.

Or their hearts can be so hardened by sin that the Spirit ceases to even try to influence them.

It is true of course that God will protect his Church so that the gates of hell will not prevail against it - he will ensure that a pope will not define heresy as doctrine, and will protect the Church from falling completely.  In a worst case scenario, God will of course so arrange things to bring good out of evil.

But that doesn't mean that the best person for the job - or even a good person for the job - is guaranteed of election.  Indeed, history provides many counter-examples!

Can the current Cardinals elect the right man?

All of this makes the question marks that have arisen over a number of the Cardinal-electors in recent days all the more pertinent.

First we have the prospect of a number of Cardinals who protected priests from prosecution, failed to take action against those with credible accusations against them, and ensured they continued to abuse children brazenly fronting up to participate in the Conclave, even trumpeting the fact to the world.

The most publicised of these cases is surely Cardinal Mahony, removed from his remaining public duties in his diocese but a few weeks ago yet defiantly unrepentant.

But he is not alone.  There are big question marks about New York's Cardinal Dolan (even being touted as papabile in the media), currently giving depositions behind closed doors over cases in his former diocese; Cardinal Sean Brady of Ireland; Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium (who had computer files seized at his home in 2010 over suspicions that he helped cover up hundreds of abuse cases); and Cardinal Justin Rigali (retired archbishop of Philadelphia).

Secondly there is the problem of the factionalism, sodomy and corruption that is allegedly rife in the Curia.  Over a third of the Cardinal electors are current or former Curia officials.  In that light the all too credible reports of a gay mafia operating within the Vatican, and the terrible factionalism and corruption exposed in the Vikileaks scandal should be of especial concern to us.

Frankly it is ridiculous that the Curia should be dominated by Italians, and that Italian should be the primary language of the Vatican.  The continuing dominance of Italians in the Vatican almost guarantees problems of the type we are seeing.  The reality is that the Pope may be bishop of Rome, but he doesn't actually technically live in Italy, and there is a reason for that: he governs the world, not just his diocese.  Time for a thorough clean out and rethink on this.

Thirdly there is the problem of the orthodoxy or otherwise of the assorted Cardinal-electors.  The efforts of some to publicly undermine Church doctrines and traditions in the lead up to the election shows just how grave a problem this is.  In Germany, the Bishops Conference has reportedly approved the use of the 'morning after pill' in its hospitals. In Scotland, Cardinal O'Brien has apparently touted not just the prospect of allowing married men to become priests, but of allowing priests to marry (something that has never been permitted as a general principle in either East or West).

Fourthly there is the problem of the composition of the electors, which reflects neither the city of Rome itself (in fact neither the people or priests of Rome get a say at all in the election of their bishop), nor of the Church as a whole.  Over half the Cardinal-electors are from Europe, which makes up only a quarter of the Church in overall numbers.  And it is even more of an anachronism that 28 of the Cardinal-electors are from Italy, who make up a minuscule proportion of the world's Catholics, followed by the next largest group of 11 from the US.  Meanwhile the rapidly growing churches of Africa and Asia are drastically under-represented.

Finally, there is the generational problem.  I'm all for the wisdom of age as a general principle, but the average age of 72 of the electors means virtually all of them lived through that era of brainwashing and bullying by those imbued by the 'spirit of Vatican II' that saw a mass exodus from the Church of priests, religious and laypeople.  Few people of that generation seem to be able to take an objective view of what happened, and see things as they really are (the term brainwashed springs to mind).

Time for a rethink on how we elect Popes I think!

Pray!

Let us hope that the new Pope will be a radical reformer from within: a man who will clear out the Italian dominated Curia and will instead insist on appointments being made on the basis of genuine administrative and spiritual merit; will insist that all those tainted by mishandling of the abuse crisis resign their positions and retire to a life of penance, or else be degraded; and that all those who hold positions of authority in the Church uphold its teachings and traditions.

Pray hard.

Psalms of Tenebrae/10 - Psalm 76(77) - Can we stay awake?



This final psalm of the Matins segment of Maundy Thursday Tenebrae opens by depicting the Lord, still keeping vigil in the Garden as he waits for his arrest, devoid of comfort:

"I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted... I am so troubled that I cannot speak." (RSV)

The problem he is struggling with is the fate of mankind, which hangs now in the balance:

"Will the Lord spurn for ever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love for ever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?"

Yet, the psalm reminds us, this is the God who saves, who parted the Red Sea to lead his people out of Egypt, and will do so again in the baptism of the Cross.  We can have no doubt of the answer, for God's love for us is infinite.

The real question is whether we in turn can respond to this great love poured out as grace for us, and take up the path of sanctity and salvation; can we stay awake with Christ?

Psalm 76

Voce mea ad Dóminum clamávi : * voce mea ad Deum, et inténdit mihi.
In die tribulatiónis meæ Deum exquisívi, mánibus meis nocte contra eum : * et non sum decéptus.
Rénuit consolári ánima mea, * memor fui Dei, et delectátus sum, et exercitátus sum : et defécit spíritus meus.
Anticipavérunt vigílias óculi mei : *  turbátus sum, et non sum locútus.
Cogitávi dies antíquos : * et annos ætérnos in mente hábui.
Et meditátus sum nocte cum corde meo, * et exercitábar, et scopébam spíritum meum.
Numquid in ætérnum projíciet Deus : * aut non appónet ut complacítior sit adhuc?
Aut in finem misericórdiam suam abscíndet, * a generatióne in generatiónem?
Aut obliviscétur miseréri Deus : * aut continébit in ira sua misericórdias suas?
Et dixi : Nunc cœpi : * hæc mutátio déxteræ Excélsi.
Memor fui óperum Dómini : * quia memor ero ab inítio mirabílium tuórum.
Et meditábor in ómnibus opéribus tuis : * et in adinventiónibus tuis exercébor.
Deus, in sancto via tua : quis Deus magnus sicut Deus noster? * tu es Deus qui facis mirabília.
Notam fecísti in pópulis virtútem tuam : * Redemísti in bráchio tuo pópulum tuum fílios Jacob et Joseph.
Vidérunt te aquæ,  Deus, vidérunt te aquæ : * et timuérunt et turbátæ sunt abyssi.
Multitúdo sónitus aquárum : * vocem dedérunt nubes.
Etenim sagíttæ tuæ tránseunt : * vox tonítrui tui in rota.
Illuxérunt coruscatiónes tuæ orbi terræ : *  commóta est, et contrémuit terra.
In mari via tua, et sémitæ tuæ in aquis multis : * et vestígia tua non cognoscéntur.
Deduxísti sicut oves pópulum tuum, *  in manu Móysi et Aaron.

And the English:

I cried to the Lord with my voice; to God with my voice, and he gave ear to me.
In the days of my trouble I sought God, with my hands lifted up to him in the night, and I was not deceived.
My soul refused to be comforted: I remembered God, and was delighted, and was exercised, and my spirit swooned away.
My eyes prevented the watches: I was troubled, and I spoke not.
I thought upon the days of old: and I had in my mind the eternal years.
And I meditated in the night with my own heart: and I was exercised and I swept my spirit.
Will God then cast off for ever? Or will he never be more favourable again?
Or will he cut off his mercy for ever, from generation to generation?
Or will God forget to show mercy? Or will he in his anger shut up his mercies?
And I said, Now have I begun: this is the change of the right hand of the most High.
With your arm you have redeemed your people the children of Jacob and of Joseph.
The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you: and they were afraid, and the depths were troubled.
Great was the noise of the waters: the clouds sent out a sound.
For your arrows pass: The voice of your thunder in a wheel.
Your lightnings enlightened the world: the earth shook and trembled.
Your way is in the sea, and your paths in many waters: and your footsteps shall not be known.
You have conducted your people like sheep, by the hand of Moses and Aaron



Tenebrae of Holy Thursday

Nocturn I: Psalms 68, 69, 70
Nocturn II: Psalms 71, 72, 73
Nocturn III: Psalms 74, 75, 76
Lauds: 50, 89, 35, [Ex 15], 146

Friday, 22 February 2013

Psalms of Tenebrae/9 - Psalm 75



Today's psalm, Psalm 75 (76), continues the of God's intervention in history, and the coming warfare of the Cross.

Psalm 75 actually gets two runs in Tenebrae: on Maundy Thursday, and again in the third Nocturn for Holy Saturday.

The Old Testament historical context it suggested its title is the victory over the king of the Assyrians, Sennacherib described in 2 Kings 19: 35 and Isaiah 37:36. The language of fear and awe is an appropriate reaction to the scene described there:

“And it came to pass that night, that an angel of the Lord came, and slew in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty-five thousand. And when he arose early in the morning, he saw all the bodies of the dead.”

Both Isaiah and this psalm imply that the attack of Sennacherib foreshadows the dawning of the Messianic era, reminding us of God’s stupendous power: Tu terríbilis es, et quis resístet tibi? ex tunc ira tua’, or You are terrible, and who shall resist you? From that time your wrath (verse 8).

The accompanying antiphon for Maundy Thursday encourages us to particularly think of the earthquake that at the moment of Our Lord’s death, rending the temple veil in two, with the verse 'De caelo auditum fecisti judicium: terra tremuit et quievit (From heaven you have pronounced your judgment: the earth trembled and was still).

Despite God's 'anger' as exprssed in the psalm, we are reminded that Christ died on the cross for a reason, namely ‘to save all the meek of the earth’ (v9).  No doubt for that reason, the antiphon for Holy Saturday picks up a contrasting verse: 'his place is in peace: and his abode in Sion'.

In the light of this, the opening references to God being known in Judaea, and in the Temple in (Jeru)salem, in verses 1-2, have a layer of irony attached to them: when the people denied God the Son, the veil of the Temple was pierced, the earth trembled, and the true Judaea, where God is really known, became the Church.  His abode became Hades for a time, until Jerusalem is transfigured into the heavenly Jerusalem, from which judgment comes, causing the earth to fear and stand still.

This psalm is a fierce reminder of God’s justice, power and might before which we should tremble.

No wonder then that it ends in a call to persevere in our vows and offerings.

Psalm 75

Notus in Judæa Deus; in Israël magnum nomen ejus.
Et factus est in pace locus ejus, et habitatio ejus in Sion.
Ibi confregit potentias arcuum, scutum, gladium, et bellum.
Illuminans tu mirabiliter a montibus æternis;  turbati sunt omnes insipientes corde.
Dormierunt somnum suum, et nihil invenerunt omnes viri divitiarum in manibus suis.
Ab increpatione tua, Deus Jacob, dormitaverunt qui ascenderunt equos.
Tu terribilis es; et quis resistet tibi? ex tunc ira tua.
De cælo auditum fecisti judicium : terra tremuit et quievit cum exsurgeret in judicium Deus, ut salvos faceret omnes mansuetos terræ.
Quoniam cogitatio hominis confitebitur tibi, et reliquiæ cogitationis diem festum agent tibi.
Vovete et reddite Domino Deo vestro, omnes qui in circuitu ejus affertis munera:
terribili, et ei qui aufert spiritum principum : terribili apud reges terræ.

In Judea God is known: his name is great in Israel.
And his place is in peace: and his abode in Sion:
There has he broken the powers of bows, the shield, the sword, and the battle.
You enlighten wonderfully from the everlasting hills. All the foolish of heart were troubled.
They have slept their sleep; and all the men of riches have found nothing in their hands.
At your rebuke, O God of Jacob, they have all slumbered that mounted on horseback.
You are terrible, and who shall resist you? From that time your wrath.
You have caused judgment to be heard from heaven: the earth trembled and was still,
when God arose in judgment, to save all the meek of the earth.
For the thought of man shall give praise to you: and the remainders of the thought shall keep holiday to you.
Vow and pay to the Lord your God: all you that are round about him bring presents.
To him that is terrible, even to him who takes away the spirit of princes: to the terrible with the kings of the earth.



Tenebrae of Holy Thursday

Nocturn I: Psalms 68, 69, 70
Nocturn II: Psalms 71, 72, 73
Nocturn III: Psalms 74, 75, 76
Lauds: 50, 89, 35, [Ex 15], 146

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Psalms of Tenebrae/8 - Psalm 74: Fear judgment


Today's psalm, Psalm 74 (75), marks the start of the third Nocturn of Tenebrae for Maundy Thursday, and though we are still dealing with the prayer in the Garden, the focus broadens somewhat.

In this Nocturn, rather than just focusing on Judas' betrayal, we are invited also to contemplate the plotting of the Jewish authorities, and the rejection of Christ by the people of Jerusalem.

And there is a clear message for those within God's Church who plot for its downfall: each of these three psalms points to the weight of God's anger that will fall upon the guilty: this is the God who causes rockfalls, earthquakes, lightening; the God who parted the waters of the Red Sea, and we should fear his wrath.  Above all though, these three psalms give us reasons for perseverance and endurance in times of difficulty.

The bitter cup

Psalm 74 is particularly appropriate as a prayer of the Garden, for in the central verses at least, it is clear that God is speaking; offering something of a dialogue with those who persecute and reject him, and pleading once more for repentance:

"I said to the wicked: Do not act wickedly: and to the sinners: Lift not up the horn.  Lift not up your horn on high: speak not iniquity against God."

And indeed we know from the Acts of the Apostles that many did indeed repent, did indeed realise that it was against God himself they were rebelling.

Soon in this Easter story, Christ will drink the bitter cup for our salvation, so that the just may be saved.  Yet the psalm also points us towards that final time of judgment, when, 'all the sinners of the earth shall drink'  from the cup of strong wine that he pours out.  It is a warning not to fall off the right path.

Seek God through Scripture

The psalm is a reminder too, as Cassiodorus comments, that we shouldn't need the great natural signs so often used in the Old Testament to keep us on track, for God has given us all the means we need to find him:

"We have heard the words of the Lord uttered not from the heights of heaven but from the sacred writings of the Psalter. We must obey Him all the more readily as He has deigned to offer advice to us all together. When the Lord spoke to Moses, the lightning flashed, the thunder crashed, the whole of Mount Sinai smoked, and fear of death penetrated all men; the command which brings life reached mankind in a manner which made them believe that they would perish through great hazard. So see how we must continually marvel at the kindnesses of the Lord Saviour if only we can understand them, for we carry His words every day in our hands. The Lord's wishes are revealed to us enclosed in the divine writings; He makes them available by His bodily appearance, so that the inner eye of the heart may be schooled for our welfare. He is never silent if we have recourse to Him in His writings. He is always ready to offer a vital response, and He is never at any time found to be absent if we seek Him with pure hearts. So let us, as the psalm urges us, renounce the pride which secludes the wicked from Him, and let us love the humility which joins the saints to Him in heavenly love."

All the same, don't altogether discount the possibility that those fires, earthquakes, floods or cyclones were indeed a sign!

Psalm 74

Confitébimur tibi, Deus: *  confitébimur, et invocábimus nomen tuum
Narrábimus mirabília tua: * cum accépero tempus, ego justítias judicábo.
Liquefácta est terra, et omnes qui hábitant in ea: * ego confirmávi colúmnas ejus.
Dixi iníquis: Nolíte iníque ágere: * et delinquéntibus : Nolíte exaltáre cornu : 
Nolíte extóllere in altum cornu vestrum: * nolíte loqui advérsus Deum iniquitátem.
Quia neque ab Oriénte, neque ab Occidénte, neque a desértis móntibus: * quóniam Deus judex est.
 Hunc humíliat, et hunc exáltat: * quia calix in manu Dómini vini meri plenus misto.
Et inclinávit ex hoc in hoc: verúmtamen fæx ejus non est exinaníta: * bibent omnes peccatóres terræ.
Ego autem annuntiábo in sæculum: * cantábo Deo Jacob.
Et ómnia córnua peccatórum confríngam: * et exaltabúntur córnua justi.

And I normally use a version of the Douay-Rheims as the translation, but today a small taster from the excellent Ronald Knox translation, in honour of the anniversary of his birth, and the new Baronius Press edition of it.  Note that I've rearranged the verses to line up with the liturgical divisions of the text.

We praise thee, O God, and, praising thee, call upon thy name, 
tell the story of thy wondrous deeds. When the time is ripe, I will judge strictly; 
earth rocks to its fall, and all that dwell on it; I alone support its fabric.
Rebel no more, I cry to the rebels, Abate your pride, to the transgressors; 
would they match themselves against the most High, hurl defiance at God?
Look east, look west, it will avail you nothing; no help comes from the desert, or the high hills; 
it is God who rules all, humbling one man and exalting another. In the Lord’s hand foams a full cup of spiced wine; 
he holds it to men’s lips, that must empty it to the dregs, sinners everywhere must drink them. 
Evermore will I triumph, singing praises to the God of Jacob; 
mine to crush the pride of every sinner, and raise high the courage of the just.



Tenebrae of Holy Thursday

Nocturn I: Psalms 68, 69, 70
Nocturn II: Psalms 71, 72, 73
Nocturn III: Psalms 74, 75, 76
Lauds: 50, 89, 35, [Ex 15], 146