Signs of Life

•January 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I finally received one of many books that I have been looking forward to: Signs of Life-40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots, by Scott Hahn (his latest work).

In this book, Hahn discusses many of the practices unique to Catholicism and Orthodoxy (as well as a few of the liturgically-minded Protestants), and shows their biblical basis, as well as how some of the early Christians saw these practices.  On these points, I think it is important to note that Catholics do not believe or practice things because they are in the Bible.  The Church came before the Bible, not the other way around.  Yes, the Church did have the Old Testament scriptures (this is something that Protestant critics love to bring up on that point), however we are referring to the fact that the early Church was living the New Testament, and the Church was in existence long before the scriptures were brought together as a whole.  So, we must realize that when Catholics reference the biblical basis for our beliefs, it is not that we believe that a group of early Catholics looked to the Bible then said “there, this is what we believe”.  Instead, what they believed and lived ended up in the Bible.

Hahn divides these 40 practices into 9 sections: Life Begins, Life Times, A Day in the Life, Life Lessons, Stages of Life, Spice of Life, Abundant Life, Love of My Life, and Life Goes On.  To give you an idea of what he discusses, here are some of the 40 practices discussed: Holy Water, the Sign of the Cross, Guardian Angels, Lent and Easter, Advent and Christmas, Posture, Morning Offering, Examination of Conscience, Retreat, Spiritual Reading, Confirmation, Priesthood, Incense, Candles, Relics, Indulgences, Intercession of the Saints, Pilgrimage, Scapulars and Medals, and Prayers for the Dead.  This book clearly covers many topics important to Catholicism, and I am excited to start reading it.

From the flaps:

Signs of Life is beloved author Scott Hahn’s exciting guide to the biblical doctrines and historical traditions that underlie Catholic beliefs and practices.  Devoting single chapters to each topic, the author takes the reader on a journey that illuminates the roots and significance of all things Catholic, including: the Sign of the Cross; the Mass; the Sacraments; praying with the saints; guardian angels; sacred images and relics; the celebration of Easter, Christmas, and other holidays; daily prayers; and much more.

In the appealing conversational tone that has won him millions of devoted readers, Hahn presents the basic tenets of Church teachings, clears up the common misconceptions about specific rituals and traditions, and responds thoughtfully to the objections raised about them.  Each chapter concludes with loving, good-natured, inspiring advice on applying the Church’s wisdom to everyday life.

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Pondering the Orthodox Church…

•December 10, 2009 • 3 Comments

As I mentioned in a previous post (it has been a while!), I am very much attracted to Eastern Christianity.  Eastern Christianity emphasizes the “otherworldliness” of Christianity, the reality that the Church extends outside of this world, and is eternal as Jesus Christ, our Savior, is.  The Divine Liturgy is truly a wonderful experience, and while I love the Mass of Paul VI (the “Novus Ordo”) and the Tridentine Mass of the West, the Divine Liturgy captures certain realities of the ancient Faith in a way that speaks to the soul.

So what is one to do if they are Catholic and attracted to Eastern spirituality?  There are 2-3 options: attend an Eastern Catholic parish, convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, or convert to Oriental Orthodoxy.  I will briefly address the first two.

Becoming Eastern Catholic would be the easiest option for me, as I maintain communion with the Bishop of Rome, and participate in all of the liturgics found in the East.  There are many Eastern Catholic churches.  As mentioned in a previous article of mine, we must remember that the Catholic Church, like the Orthodox Church, is actually composed of a number of “particular churches”, such as the Roman Catholic church (the largest), the Ukrainian Catholic church, the Melkite Catholic church, the Ethiopian Catholic church, etc.  Most of the Eastern Catholic churches also have Orthodox counterparts.  So in theory, you get all of the benefits of Orthodoxy, and you are still in union with the Pope.

But it is this idea, of being “Orthodox in communion with Rome” that causes a number of problems that I have noticed in conversing with many Eastern Catholics.  For example, there is the issue of the post-schism (remember that the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church split in 1054 AD in the “Great Schism”) Ecumenical Councils.  The Orthodox Church believes in Seven Ecumenical Councils, and has not held one since the Schism.  In contrast, the Catholic Church reveres 21 Ecumenical Councils, and has obviously held numerous ones after the last that the Orthodox recognize.  Various doctrinal developments have occurred in the West since the Schism, with doctrines such as Papal Infallibility, Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Treasury of Merits, etc.  So if many of these unique doctrines came from Ecumenical Councils held post-schism, how do Eastern Catholics deal with these non-Orthodox doctrines?

This is where the confusion (at least to me) begins to show.  Some Eastern Catholics will claim that these doctrines must stay in the West (Roman Catholic), since they are called to remain fully Orthodox, yet maintaining communion with Rome.  Since ideas like Papal Infallibility, Immaculate Conception, and Purgatory are strictly Western doctrines, Eastern Catholics do not have to hold them.  The problem with this is that some of these doctrines came from Ecumenical Councils!  The question is: how is it possible for Eastern Catholic churches to maintain union with Rome and deny doctrines from Ecumenical Councils?  Both East and West recognize Ecumenical Councils as binding on the entire Church.  It does not make sense to me that part of the Church can deny that certain Councils were Ecumenical (and not just local councils), while the rest of it says that these councils were indeed Ecumenical.  The Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton has what seems to be a Sunday School quiz on its website.  Here are two sample questions:

How many Ecumenical Councils were held?-Seven Ecumenical Councils”

“Was the Vatican Council an Ecumenical Council?  Why or why not?-The Vatican Council was not an Ecumenical Council-no participation from the Orthodox”

Keep in mind that this is an Eastern Catholic diocese in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.  And here, it is stating that there were only Seven Ecumenical Councils, when the Roman Catholic church, which it is in communion with, claims that there were 21.  It is this sort of confusion that one would have to sort out if they decided to become Eastern Catholic.  While I believe that the East has maintained a “purity” in doctrine and liturgy, it makes no sense to become Eastern Catholic if there isn’t really a unity in the Faith in the entire Church.  One part of the Church says that there were 21 Ecumenical Councils while another says that there were 7.  Even if the Eastern Catholics accept all 21, they do not seem to accept the doctrinal developments resulting from them, though they accept the doctrinal developments of the first 7.

It is from this point of confusion that one, including myself, begins to look into the Orthodox Church.  With the Orthodox Church, this is not a problem.  All of the churches of the Orthodox Church, whether the Antiochian Orthodox, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Russian Orthodox, the Orthodox Church in America, the Greek Orthodox, etc. all accept Seven Ecumenical Councils.  They all proclaim the same Faith.  And the East has preserved the fullness of the Faith pre-schism, and has preserved the most ancient liturgies.

So where do I see myself at this point?  That is a complex question.  Firstly, I love the Catholic Church.  I love that it is large.  I love that I can walk into any parish in my area and just sit and pray.  I love that people pay attention to it, for better or for worse.  I love the network of Catholic colleges, universities, hospitals, elementary and secondary schools, charities, shelters, etc.  The Catholic Church really has a profound effect on society worldwide.  I love the sheer volume of books on Catholicism, on anything you could imagine, ranging from history, apologetics, inspirational, doctrine, etc., for readers of all types.  I love that services are in English, and I can understand what is being said (though of course this wasn’t always the case).

On the other hand, it seems as if the Orthodox Church has maintained the Faith in a way that cannot be said in the West.  But one big question is: when does doctrinal development end?  We all accept the doctrinal development from the first 7 Ecumenical Councils.  Should there be more?  Is the doctrinal development in the West valid?  For example, we all agree that the Bishop of Rome had primacy pre-schism.  But he did not function in the same way that the current Pope does.  But does this matter?  If we accept the current role of the Pope as an extension of doctrinal development, then one doesn’t have to be worried that there is a difference between the pre and post-schism Papacy.  The problem is when Catholics try to say that “this is the way it has always been”, when it is clear that it isn’t.  Doctrines such as Purgatory and the Treasury of Merits are not found pre-schism.  There was prayer for the dead, and the Orthodox do this, however there was no concept of Purgatory, or a place where one is cleansed of temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven.  The Biblical verses cited in support of Purgatory and the Treasury of Merits don’t really apply to either, and at most refer to prayer for the dead in the case of Purgatory.

So, with much prayer and study, I hope to find where God is leading me.  Perhaps it is the Orthodox Church.  Perhaps it is Eastern Catholicism.  Perhaps I will see that the Early Church Fathers did have the beginnings of the unique Roman Catholic doctrines.  Important issues for a Catholic to consider in this endeavor are 1)doctrinal development 2)Purgatory 3)Ecclesiology-specifically the office and role of the Bishop of Rome.

Catholics, Read Your Bible!

•October 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A common statement made by Protestants, or at least evangelical Christians, is that Catholics do not read the Bible, and thus are not familiar enough with it when discussing with them, especially when attempting to discuss our doctrines.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life publishes an annual “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, which provides some interesting statistics on a host of religions and the views of its members (or at least the sample, which we would hope is representative of the larger population) on various issues, religious, political, moral, etc.  Here are a few statistics related to this post:

-Question: How often do you read scripture outside of religious services?

For Catholics, 21% said they read scripture at least once a week, 11% said once or twice a month, 10% said several times a year, 21% said seldom, and 36% said never.

Comparatively:

-For Evangelicals, 60% said at least once a week, 11% said once or twice a month, 7% said several times a year, 12% said seldom, and 9% said never.

-For Mormons (who of course have scriptures in addition to the Bible), 76% said at least once a week, 7% said once or twice a month, 4% said several times a year, 7% said seldom, and 6% said never.

-Question:Do you pray or read the Scripture with your child/children?

For Catholics, 63% said yes and 37% said no

Comparatively:

-For Evangelicals, 81% said yes and 19% said no

-For Mormons, 91% said yes and 9% said no

Question: Which comes closest to your view?

For Catholics, 23% believe that our Holy Book is the word of God, taken literally; 36% believe that it is the word of God, not taken literally; 3% said it is the word of God, other; 27% said it is a book written by men and not the word of God; 11% said other.

Comparatively:

-For Evangelicals, 59% believe the Bible to be the word of God to be taken literally; 25% believe it is the word of God not taken literally; 5% believe it is the word of God, other; 7% believe it is a book written by men and not the word of God; 5% said other

-For Mormons, 35% said their Scriptures are the word of God taken literally; 50% said they are the word of God, not taken literally; 7% said they are the word of God, other; 4% said they are books written by men and not the word of God; 4% said other.

Now, of course this is only one survey, however I believe that it does speak to an issue that I personally have noticed before.  As Catholics, we hear the Scriptures read every Sunday at Mass.  There are 4 readings from the Bible each Sunday, including the Psalms.  If one attends Vespers, there are also many readings there.  However, it seems as if more Catholics need to read the Bible outside of church.  I include myself in this, as before this year, I would only reference the Bible outside of church when I was arguing some doctrinal point.

Instead, we as Catholics need to remember that the Bible is the word of God, written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit.  A scriptural foundation is important when understanding what we believe as Catholics.  The Bible isn’t just a story book, or something that we receive as gifts that are put on display but never opened.  It is not something we hear on Sunday and just leave alone until the next week.

Therefore, I urge Catholics to crack open their Bibles and immerse themselves in the scriptures, and if you have children, to read with them as well (there are even many versions of the Bible for children to get them started).  The New American Bible is the version used during Mass, and is certainly great for your own independent reading, and is also the version that I am currently reading.  Never use the King James Version, unless you are doing so in a discussion with those who use that version exclusively.  Catholics see as inspired other books that are not found in the KJV, therefore one should look for a version that includes such texts, such as the New American Bible.

Here are two articles that may help you in finding a Bible version for yourself, if you do not already have one:

Bible Translations Guide

Choosing and Using a Bible

Bishops Should Be Married?

•October 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A common statement by Latter-day Saint (Mormon) apologists is that one of the signs of the true Church of Jesus Christ is that its bishops should be married, since that is what the Bible says.  In “Evidences of the True Church“, LDS author Dennis K. Brown claims “First Timothy 3:2 says that bishops should be married.  This is frequently not the case in some other churches, which teach that bishops should be celibate and single.”

Let us look at 1 Timothy 3:2.  Here is what it states (King James Version):

2A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

How can this be interpreted?  Mormons and others claim that this means that a bishop must be married.  However, Catholics and Orthodox differ.  Instead, we believe that it is saying that a bishop, if married, must be the husband of one wife, and no more (i.e. no polygamy).  Another interpretation is that those who are to be among the people chosen to be bishops should not have been married more than once (i.e. divorce), being the husband of more than one wife. Verse 4 in the same chapter states that a bishop should have “his children in subjection with all gravity”.  Therefore, if we are using the same interpretation as Mormons, this would mean that men without children also cannot become bishops.

Another failure in the Mormon interpretation of 1 Timothy 3 is that they do not follow verse 12:

12Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the office of deacon is generally given to 12-13 year old boys.  Clearly they are not becoming husbands, nor do they have children to rule.  It is no wonder that in Brown’s book, he only addresses 1 Timothy 3 as far as bishops, and not deacons, since their reading and practice of this chapter is inconsistent.

It is especially important that Paul elsewhere states this:

1 Corinthians 7:7-8 (KJV)

7For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

8I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.

It would be illogical for Paul to claim that leaders in the Church must be married, when he himself was not married.

The Catholic Church holds the more consistent interpretation of this passage.  We believe that if bishops are married, they must be the husband of one wife, and not have been remarried.  The same goes for deacons.  In fact, the diaconate of the Catholic Church includes many married men, who make up the majority in the permanent diaconate (those who will not go on to the priesthood).  We should note that clerical celibacy is a practice, and not a doctrine, and that it is certainly possible that at some point in the future, married men may be admitted to the Latin rite priesthood.  In fact, in the Eastern Catholic churches, which are part of the Catholic Church, and are in union with the Bishop of Rome (I state this to differentiate them from their Eastern Orthodox counterparts) do admit married men to the priesthood.  However, in both cases, as well as in the Orthodox Church, bishops are chosen from among the unmarried priests and monks.

So, if a Latter-day Saint says to you that 1 Timothy 3:2 is evidence that the Catholic Church is disobeying the Bible, point out to him/her that their interpretation is not warranted by the passage, especially when they disobey 1 Timothy 3:12 by giving the diaconate to unmarried, childless, 12-13 year old males, using the same reading of that passage as they give verse 2.

Glory to God in the Highest

•October 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the Mass is the “Gloria”.  Some Catholics may call it blasphemy, but I actually like the “Creation Mass” setting of the Gloria (note that the video is in an Anglican parish, however Catholic parishes also use this Mass setting (it’s probably used so much that Catholics are tired of it, hence my ‘blasphemy’ comment)).

The text of the Gloria is actually not the same in Latin as it is in English.  This will be one of the changes made with the upcoming new translation of the Mass in English.  Let us look at the differences between the Latin, the current English translation, and the upcoming English translation.

Latin “Gloria”

Glória in excélsis Deo
et in terra pax homínibus bonae voluntátis.
Laudámus te,
benedícimus te,
adorámus te,
glorificámus te,
grátias ágimus tibi propter magnam glóriam tuam,
Dómine Deus, Rex cæléstis,
Deus Pater omnípotens.
Dómine Fili Unigénite, Iesu Christe,
Dómine Deus, Agnus Dei, Fílius Patris,
qui tollis peccáta mundi, miserére nobis;
qui tollis peccáta mundi, súscipe deprecatiónem nostram.
Qui sedes ad déxteram Patris, miserére nobis.
Quóniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dóminus, tu solus Altíssimus,
Iesu Christe, cum Sancto Spíritu: in glória Dei Patris. Amen.

Current English Translation of the “Gloria”

Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to his people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King,
almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ,
only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer.
For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Upcoming English Translation of the “Gloria”

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will. We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,

Lord God, heavenly King,
O God, almighty Father.

Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.
For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

The new translation is much more faithful to the actual Latin words (as well as the words used by Eastern Catholics and Orthodox), as are many of the parts of the Mass that are changing, such as the response ‘and with your spirit’ to ‘the Lord be with you’ (again, faithful to the Latin as well as what is said in Eastern liturgies).  Sadly, this means that some of the music settings used for the Mass will have to go, since they won’t be able to work with the new translations.

Below is a video of the Gloria in Latin at a Tridentine Mass.  One thing that you will notice is that the sign of the cross is made twice during the Gloria, and that the priests and altar servers (and the laity) bow to ‘Iesu Christe’ (Jesus Christ).  This reminds me of Eastern liturgies, where some action is done in reverence to the Trinity, Jesus Christ, etc.  I love the bow at Jesus Christ (which is done throughout the Tridentine Mass whenever His name is said), and I think adds to the general feel of the Tridentine Mass, since it is something not found in the ordinary form (Mass of Paul VI, “Novus Ordo”).  I hope you enjoy, and feel free to reference above for the English translation of what is being said.

Vatican Youtube Page?

•October 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Who would have thought?  The Vatican has a Youtube Channel that I believe every Catholic should check out.  There are MANY videos available, giving Catholics from around the world insight into the activities of the Vatican, as well as inspiring homilies from the Bishop of Rome himself.  Pope Benedict XVI is a great theologian (many of his books are very popular, especially Jesus of Nazareth), and it is wonderful to hear his views, as the Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, on Catholic faith.

Link to the official Catholic Church Youtube Channel.

Been to a Tridentine Mass?

•September 28, 2009 • 4 Comments

Many Catholics are not aware that there are many liturgies celebrated in the Catholic Church to worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The most common liturgy in the Roman Catholic church is the Mass of Paul VI (“Novus Ordo”) which was written after the Second Vatican Council, in 1969.  In the Eastern Catholic churches (along with the Eastern Orthodox Church), the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is celebrated, among other Divine Liturgies.

Prior to the Mass of Paul VI, the common liturgy of the Roman Catholic church from the 1500s onwards was the “Tridentine Mass”.  There are many similarities and many differences between the Tridentine Mass and its follower, the Mass of Paul VI.  One of the main differences is that it is in Latin.  The Mass of Paul VI can also be celebrated in Latin, however the Tridentine Mass is never said in the vernacular (save for the Bible readings and the homily).  Therefore, if one attends a Tridentine Mass in the United States, if they go to visit a Catholic parish in New Delhi, India, the Tridentine Mass would be exactly the same language, save for the readings, which would be in the vernacular.  Also, the priest and other celebrants all face the same direction as the laity (many say that the priest has “his back to the people”).  Note that although the Mass is said in Latin, parishes that celebrate the Tridentine Mass generally have “missals” available for the laity, which show what is being said in both Latin and English (or the vernacular).  Many also purchase their own missals.

There are different forms of the Tridentine Mass, ranging from a Low Mass (which is spoken, not sung (a cantor may sing a few hymns), and much of it is whispered by the priest.  There is A LOT of prayerful silence in this one), a Missa Cantata (a sung mass, and also includes the use of incense), a Solemn High Mass (distinguished from a Missa Cantata because the priest is assisted by a deacon and a subdeacon), and a Pontifical High Mass (celebrated by a bishop, assisted by a priest, deacon, subdeacon, and others).

Today, the Tridentine Mass is again gaining popularity, and is generally found in cities (I have attended in both DC and NYC), and other locations where there is a call for it by the laity and the priesthood.  Pope Benedict XVI issued an apostolic letter entitled Summorum Pontificum in 2007, which allows for the more widespread celebration fo the Tridentine Mass, if there is a call for it by the laity.  This relaxed previous rules that called for the Bishop of a diocese to authorize the public celebration of the Tridentine Mass.

Many are attracted to the Tridentine Mass because it connects them with an older form of the Mass than the current one.  Both Masses are of course valid, and one isn’t “better” than another, though people may have personal preferences for one or the other.  I personally like both.  A properly celebrated Mass of Paul VI is very beautiful, and I attended one for a period of time during college in DC at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Complete with chanting, full choir, incense, processions with candles, etc., such Novus Ordo liturgies show that it doesn’t have to be the way Traditionalist Catholics sometimes stereotype it.  As far as the Tridentine Mass, I can do without the Low Mass form, and love the Missa Canata and Solemn High Mass.  The Tridentine Mass, as well as a properly celebrated Mass of Paul VI, connects us with the more ancient liturgies, that retain the same general form, and even have many similarities to the liturgies in the Jewish temple.  Through the Mass and Divine Liturgy, we step away from the modern world, and enter into eternity, worshipping God with the angels and saints that have gone before us.  I feel that the Tridentine Mass captures this reality of our theology moreso than the Novus Ordo Mass, however again, a properly celebrated Mass (without liturgical abuses) does do this as well.

Below is a link to a Google video of a Missa Cantata at a parish in Paris, France.  Note that this parish is under the authority of the Society of Saint Pius X, which is in an irregular situation with the Catholic Church.  It is not a sedevacantist group (groups that claim to be Catholic but believe that the office of the Bishop of Rome, or Pope, is currently vacant, and that there hasn’t been a real Pope for a number of years.  They believe this for various reasons).  SSPX does honor Pope Benedict XVI as the current Bishop of Rome, however the Catholic Church does not hold it as having a status within the Catholic Church (therefore a Catholic should not attend Mass with them to fulfill their Sunday attendance, though there is nothing wrong with attending in and of itself).  SSPX and the Catholic Church are currently in talks to give them canonical status, which have progressed much in 2009, with Pope Benedict XVI lifting the excommunications of the four bishops of the SSPX.  A canonical equivalent of the SSPX is the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter/Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Petri (FSSP). Either way, the SSPX and the FSSP celebrate the Tridentine Mass, and below is an example of the Missa Cantata.

Saint John Cantius Parish, in Chicago, IL, celebrates the Tridentine Mass.  They also maintain a resourceful website on the Tridentine Mass, called Sancta Missa.

This website gives the Tridentine Mass rubric in both Latin and English, so you can follow along.