By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

5 False Myths About the "Vatican II" Mass

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the Eucharist, a ...Image via Wikipedia
I call the "Vatican II" Mass the Mass of Justin Martyr, whose second century description of the Mass of all ages is quoted at length in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
 (paragraph 1345).

Below are 5 False Myths about the Mass of Justin Martyr. They give a succinct overview of my recent series on this topic. You can click each of the false myths to go to the associated blog post. By the way, some of the comments are also instructive. Thanks to all who have commented and who will comment.

1. The first false myth is that the Vatican II Mass arose as something new only after and because of Vatican II.

2. The second false myth about the Mass of Justin Martyr is that the English translation of this Mass is gravely flawed.

3. The third false myth about the Mass of Justin Martyr is that it is intrinsically predisposed to irreverent celebration.

4.   The fourth false myth is that to have a Mass without a significant amount of or at least some Latin defies the original intent of the Second Vatican Council.

5. The fifth false myth is that it is improper to celebrate the Mass of Justin Martyr with the priest "facing the people."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Blogger's Thought of the Day

Afghanistan: Beasts of BurdenImage by Steadyjohn via Flickr
 "The Church requires much less of us than her pharisees seek to require of us."


The Significance of Tattoos

Tattoo ParlorImage by photine via Flickr
They are now so common in Michigan that I call them the "Michigan birthmark," but I may be unfairly singling out one state due to my provincialism. When growing up, I remember only merchant seamen with tattoos.

Thanks to our Rhode Island friend for this link on the subject in the New Criterion website (warning: the author quotes here and there an Anglo-Saxon expletive in his analysis). Finally, let me be clear that I am not denigrating anyone by posting this link. I am certain that there are individuals much better than I who have tattoos (I know some), but the wider social phenomenon is indeed troubling. I am also of the opinion that in many cases excessive display of tattoos likely points to deeper and darker emotional issues that need to be addressed and, hopefully, cured or mitigated.

Update: Our Rhode Island friend also sends this link to a commentary on tattoos by a Jewish rabbi. The rabbi's view is consistent with a Christian and Catholic view of the body. I, for one, endorse the rabbi's analysis.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The 5th False Myth About the "Vatican II" Mass

Holy MassImage via Wikipedia
5. The fifth false myth is that it is improper to celebrate the Mass of Justin Martyr with the priest "facing the people." The official rules that govern the celebration of the Mass provide as follows:
299. The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. 

Source link (General Instruction on the Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition, 2002; emphasis added by blogger ).

That's the answer. 

Here are some purely extra comments by me:

1. "Facing the people" does not imply that the priest is ignoring God, or that the people are transfixed by the wonderful face of the priest during the liturgy, especially at the time of or immediately after the consecration. Any such allegation is clearly polemical and, in my view, absurd, although it is commonly made and strangely presumed to be a self-evident description of celebration facing the people.

2.  In fact, the most accurate way to describe celebration facing the people is that both the priest and the people are together offering the sacrifice to God the Father. The priest is, certainly and of course, not offering the sacrifice to the people and is not fixing his gaze at the people at the moment of consecrating and offering the host and chalice, just as the people are not focused on admiring the face of the priest during the consecration. What the priest does after the consecration is to show the sacrificed body and blood of Christ to the people-- appropriately enough because, at the moment of Christ's crucifixion, the veil of the Jewish Temple was torn (Matthew 27:51).

Interestingly, offering the sacrifice "toward" a crucifix arguably blurs the fact that the priest acting in the person of Christ is actually offering the sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus to the Father. A crucifix behind the offering priest or above the offering priest in fact better matches in visual terms the role of the priest standing in the person of Christ to make the offering of the broken body and poured out blood to the Father. (But I am not implying in any way that offering the sacrifice toward or facing a crucifix is in any way improper or blameworthy. Of course, it's not.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The 4th False Myth about the "Vatican II" Mass

The opening of the Second Session of the Secon...Image via Wikipedia
4. The fourth false myth is that to have a Mass without a significant amount of or at least some Latin defies the original intent of the Second Vatican Council. The only way I know of discovering the intent of the Council is to go to the relevant text and read it, putting aside polemical agendas that can cloud what we see in the text.

Oh my, you can write hundreds of pages on this particular false myth, hundreds of pages that probably are not worth the effort. So, I will be concise.Let us go to the famous relevant text of the 
Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium):

36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.
2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.
3. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2 [namely, "competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established"] to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See.And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language.

4. Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.

Source link (emphasis added by blogger).

My translation of the above legislative language follows: "The bishops' conference, with the approval of the Vatican, determines the extent of the use of the vernacular language in the liturgy. Translations are to be approved by the bishops' conference."

So, any questions about the how much Latin a priest must use in celebrating Mass comes down to this issue: has the national bishops' conference and the Vatican approved how much of the vernacular or mother tongue the priest is using? If they have approved, there are no grounds for complaint based on the text of Vatican II. 

In fact, the new English translation of the Roman Missal to be implemented in 2011 translates the entire Roman Missal into English. There is an option to use the Greek Kyrie eleison in the penitential rite (a reminder that even the early Roman liturgy was in Koine Greek). The only Latin I saw in the new translation was the Latin rendering of the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy, . . .), use of which is optional, in the sample "Order of Mass" at the bishops' website.

In other words, Vatican II left the extent of use of the vernacular to the competent authorities. It was not the original intent of the Council to set forth a preordained limit to how much of the vernacular could be used. How do I infer this view about the Council's intent? I make this inference precisely because they did not set such a preordained limit. Case closed.

Now, if you want to argue that some Latin should be present, you are certainly free to do so; and even I might very well agree with you (I recall personally requesting some Latin in the Mass in at least one of the parishes I attended in the past). Yet, my current view is that it is false to say that a Mass with no Latin is in
defiance of Vatican II; while, at the same time, I am happy to see at least some Latin used in the Mass of Justin Martyr, especially the Agnus Dei

Friday, August 27, 2010

The 3rd False Myth About the "Vatican II" Mass

Ruins of the roman basilica at Hermopolis MagnaImage via Wikipedia
3. The third false myth about the Mass of Justin Martyr is that it is intrinsically predisposed to irreverent celebration. You hear this false myth often among some, both explicitly and implicitly. There is no basis for it in the text of the Roman Missal. I defy anyone to show anywhere in the Roman Missal of the ordinary form any instruction (rubric) that fosters irreverence. It's just not there.

So what is the basis of this false myth of intrinsic irreverence? People claim to have seen the "Vatican II" Mass celebrated in an irreverent manner. I, for one, have not, although I have been to Mass in the ordinary form in many parishes in several states and cities and even overseas.

If people disobey the Roman Missal, that is a different matter entirely. But such disobedience to the Missal is obviously nothing intrinsic to the Missal but something that a disobedient or ignorant or clumsy celebrant brings to the Missal. The same can happen in any other form of the Mass. In fact, the more complex the form of the Mass, the more likely there will be some unintentional deviation from the particular missal used. Hence, I argue that the noble, uncluttered (and very Roman) simplicity of the Mass of Justin Martyr is a good safeguard against such deviation.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The 2nd False Myth About the "Vatican II" Mass

The last SupperImage via Wikipedia
2. The second false myth about the Mass of Justin Martyr (see first post in this series) is that the English translation of this Mass is gravely flawed. Well, as of the First Sunday of Advent 2011, November 27th, a new English translation of the Vatican II Mass (I prefer calling it the "Mass of Justin Martyr") goes into effect. You can get the details at this link from the U.S. Bishops' Conference.

Moreover, if you look at the changes noted at the bishops' website, surprisingly, the changes are not, in my view, either major or radical. They strike me as adjustments that seek to make the language a more literal reflection of the official Latin text and lend a somewhat more majestic and biblical air to the English used. Here is how the bishops themselves describe the changes:

The texts of the revised translation of the Roman Missal are marked by a heightened style of English speech and a grammatical structure that closely follows the Latin text.  In addition, many biblical and poetic images, such as “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” (Communion Rite) and “…from the rising of the sun to its setting” (Eucharistic Prayer III) have been restored.

Source link.

So, even without this certainly welcome and overdue English revision, it is clear to me that the "old" English text which will soon be replaced is not, by any means, a gravely flawed translation, as some might have us think.

So, put the false myth to bed that the English translation of the Vatican II Mass, whether the present one still in use or the new one that will come into effect next year, is somehow gravely flawed. The English translation of the Mass of Justin Martyr was not gravely flawed, it is not gravely flawed, and it will certainly not be gravely flawed.

Let me make a related point. The Church has done a great service to the English-speaking world with this new translation. It is a service that is very theologically powerful: as in Pentecost (Acts 2:6b, "each one was hearing them speak in his own language," ESV), the Church praises God and proclaims the Good News in the languages of all people. This effort at refining the English translation of the Vatican II Mass is squarely in that ancient theological tradition and reflects one facet of the gift of tongues and the related gift of interpretation: seeking to make Christ more understandable to all people everywhere in their own language.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Five False Myths About the So-Called Vatican II Mass (First in a Series)

St Justin MartyrImage by jimforest via Flickr
1. The first false myth is that the Vatican II Mass arose as something new only after and because of Vatican II. No, the Mass that we inartfully call the "Vatican II Mass" is merely a form of the Mass of all ages, what I call the "Mass of Justin Martyr" who in the second century described the Mass that underlies all forms of the Mass. Please do not take my word or that of anyone else. Take the word of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The Mass of all ages
1345 As early as the second century we have the witness of St. Justin Martyr for the basic lines of the order of the Eucharistic celebration. They have stayed the same until our own day for all the great liturgical families. St. Justin wrote to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161) around the year 155, explaining what Christians did: 
On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place. 
The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits. 
When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things. 
Then we all rise together and offer prayers* for ourselves . . .and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation. 
When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss. 
Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren. 
He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts. 
When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: 'Amen.' 
When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the "eucharisted" bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.[169]
1346 The liturgy of the Eucharist unfolds according to a fundamental structure which has been preserved throughout the centuries down to our own day. It displays two great parts that form a fundamental unity:
- the gathering, the liturgy of the Word, with readings, homily and general intercessions; 
- the liturgy of the Eucharist, with the presentation of the bread and wine, the consecratory thanksgiving, and communion. 
The liturgy of the Word and liturgy of the Eucharist together form "one single act of worship";[170] the Eucharistic table set for us is the table both of the Word of God and of the Body of the Lord.[171]

Source link.

The Mass of all ages includes a kiss of peace exchanged by the entire assembly. Hmm, doesn't sound Tridentine. The Mass of all ages includes distributing the Eucharist in the forms of both bread and wine. Again, doesn't sound Tridentine. By the way, the Mass of all ages described by Justin Martyr was probably in Greek, not Latin. Justin wrote in Koine Greek, which was the common spoken language (the vernacular) of the eastern Mediterranean. Koine Greek was the vernacular, apparently, even of the Roman Christians at that time, a fact which is consistent with the fact that Paul's Letter to the Romans (circa 56 A.D.) was also written in Greek (see appendix at end of this post). Again, not Tridentine. Yet, what makes the Tridentine Mass itself a Mass to begin with is that it shares the same fundamental structure as the Mass of Justin Martyr. Yet, in my view, the so-called "Mass of Vatican II" more clearly reflects the description of Justin Martyr. That's my judgment as I read the description by Justin quoted in the Catechism.

My suggestion is this plea: stop calling the ordinary form of the Mass that became widespread after Vatican II the "Novus Ordo" because it is not new at all (in addition, it seems that "Novus Ordo" is not used in any official Church document on the liturgy--see link). The ordinary form of the Mass is, in my opinion, best called the "Mass of Justin Martyr" or the "Mass of all ages." Ironically, very ironically given the way many speak, it is the Mass of Justin Martyr that is most traditional.

I will move on to some other false myths about the so-called "Vatican II Mass" in future posts, Lord willing.  Let the chips fall where they may. Let the facts carry the day.


Cardinal Arinze notes:

The Church in Rome used Greek from the beginning. Only gradually was Latin introduced until the fourth century when the Church in Rome was definitely latinized (cf. A.G. Martimort: The Dialogue between God and his People, in A.G. Martimort, ed.: The Church at Prayer, Collegeville, 1992, I, p. 161-165).

Source link. See also Catholic Encyclopedia.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Twentysomethings Delaying Adulthood: Maybe Not So Mysterious

Crossroad Shack at Shack Up InnShack Up Inn
This weekend's N.Y. Times magazine has a lengthy article on people in their twenties as a group that seems to be delaying assiduously the markers of adulthood: independence from parents, marriage, childbearing, and careers. I admit that I only skimmed the ten-page article; I could not bring myself to read, line by line, what very quickly tipped its hand as a very superficial analysis. The gist of the article is that this rudderless existence may signal the emergence of a new stage of development, on the par with adolescence--a stage that will require social recognition and support.

Why did I find the analysis so superficial? The typical academic mindset just can't see what is actually dysfunctional as dysfunctional and tends to canonize whatever it observes as "normal" and immune to challenge. I would like to make several points about this rudderless phenomenon of drift among "twentysomethings."

1. I have observed the same drifting phenomenon among this age group, especially among, surprisingly, graduates of a very prestigious public university. The particular subgroup I came across seemed quite alienated, dispirited, and bored--full of ennui. Sometimes that alienation was reflected in a fetish for body painting or tattoos, which I took as a sign of that ennui and of immaturity.

2. Yet, this rudderless existence is, contrary to the impression made by the article, not new at all. I know people in their fifties who went through their twenties in exactly the same way: casual sex with serial partners, moving from city to city, no passionate attraction to a particular calling or vocation, finally settling into something just in the hope of maximizing income. So, my first advice to the author of the Times article is to look further back in time: the twentysomethings of today are simply following the pattern set by the baby boomers in the sixties, seventies, and eighties.

3. All this drifting, in my opinion, reflects some deep emotional and psychological problems which I categorize as despair, despair at finding true love, despair about marriage as a workable and desirable institution, despair about careers that are fulfilling, and general despair about any meaning or purpose in life. That general despair is reflected by a complete indifference to the very idea of God so that even if the possible existence of God is granted, any such God is viewed as indifferent to and distant from one's individual life, desires, and needs.

Now, let me state a few, blunt opinions. Having entered middle age, I find myself more impatient with beating around the bush because I have seen so much of it for so long, to no purpose. The article notes the delay of the traditional adult milestones such as financial independence (whether from parents or others), marriage, and career.

Well, if, as a male, you can get all the sex that you want anytime you want without being expected by females to even remotely contemplate marriage, you end up, voila, delaying marriage. If you are getting all the sex you want, maybe even on a daily basis with a live-in partner, then your female partner is likely accommodating your needs by taking care of the contraception angle. Hence, you are, of course, delaying parenthood. If marriage is not on the horizon, then there is also no urgency to quickly establish a career so you have enough income to marry, buy a house, and support a family. Your female partner will likely even pay half your rent and maybe even provide other financial assistance, in addition to providing sexual services, a highly convenient economic arrangement that further reduces the urgency to get on with a career.

In other words, for previous generations (pre-baby-boomer generations), to get steady sex you needed to get married. Good, marriageable girls did not supinely accommodate and hence did not contracept. In turn, to get married, you needed to be financially independent of your parents and establish a career path.  In other words, the joining of steady sex to marriage, naturally pressured people to grow up and get on with it. Today, you can get steady and varied sex without marriage crossing the mind of anyone involved. Hence, in my opinion, many twentysomethings have now for decades drifted along without any sense of urgency about marriage or parenthood or about becoming financially self-sufficient in a promising career as soon as possible.

That's my take, but I think it takes into account the uncomfortable elephant in the room that too many in academia ignore at the expense of dealing with reality. Sometimes the explanations are not so complicated. You do not need to grow up to get all the sex you want. Hence, many are growing up much, much later than was true in prior generations.

Life in the Spirit Seminar

For Michigan readers, here is information about an upcoming Life in the Spirit Seminar in Macomb County:

Life in the Spirit Seminar
“Wind and Fire”

September 8 to November 3, 2010

St. Augustine Church
68035 Main St.

Contact persons:

Diane Novak #586-716-2830

Heidi Sabella #586-725-9636

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Great Refresher

"It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you. He is the beauty to which you are so attracted. It is He who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise. He is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life. It is He who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus that stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society making the world more human and fraternal." 

-Pope John Paul the Great (World Youth Day 2000)

[Emphasis added by blogger; credit to a friend you passed this quote on to me]

Blogger comment: This quote is an apt companion to the post on "twentysomethings." Jesus is the rudder that is missing.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What Should a Catholic Do?

The Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre]]Image via Wikipedia
French Catholics back in the 16th century horribly massacred thousands of  French Protestants (known as Huguenots) in various French cities, including Paris. For background, see this link on the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572.

So, say that, hypothetically, I, as a Catholic, wish to erect now in 2010 a Catholic center with a Catholic chapel very close, virtually on, one of the known sites of this massacre in Paris. The Huguenots, not surprisingly, complain about the desecration of the massacre site and the project's provocative nature. As a Catholic what should I do, proceed with the project or move the location to respect the sensibilities of the Huguenots? I, for one, would change the project site. It's an obvious call. The call is even more obvious if I sought to build the Catholic center a mere nine years after the massacre.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Quote of the Day

"If this mosque is built in this location [2 blocks from Ground Zero], everyone in the world will see it as a sign that the U.S. has become, in the words of Richard Nixon’s prescient warning, 'a pitiful, helpless 
giant.' "
--Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. He can be reached at

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque: Abuse of a Legal Right

First page of the 1804 original edition of the... 
When the President and others with law degrees harp on the legal right of developers to build the Ground Zero Mosque, they fail, even with their law degrees (or, maybe, because of them!), to see the obvious, common sense point: to build this mosque so close to Ground Zero and, in fact, at a location which was damaged and where human remains were apparently found as a result of the Sept. 11th Massacre is a quintessential abuse of a legal right.

For those of us educated in the civilian law system rooted in Roman law (this legal system is used most famously in France and also in many other European nations such as Spain; even Scotland is considered a civil law jurisdiction--or, maybe more accurately, a mixed jurisdiction). In the United States, only Louisiana is a civil law jurisdiction (by "civil law" as used here is meant a legal system rooted in Roman law, not the more typical American meaning of "civil law" as the opposite of criminal law). Louisiana's status is why some American lawyers, like myself, are familiar with some of these "civilian" concepts. In Canada, Quebec is also a civil law jurisdiction.

The civil law doctrine that arguably fits this mosque controversy is the abuse of right doctrine. The Civil Code of Spain articulates one form of the doctrine:

7.1 Rights must be exercised in accordance with the requirements of good faith.
7.2 The law does not protect abuse of rights or the antisocial exercise of rights. Every act or omission that, by virtue of the intention of the actor, the object thereof, or the circumstances in which it is undertaken manifestly surpasses the normal limits of exercise of a right, causing damage to a third party, shall give rise to liability in damages and to the adoption of judicial or administrative measures that will prevent persistence in the abuse.

Article 7, Civil Code of Spain, trans. J. Romanach, Jr. (Baton Rouge, La.: Lawrence, 1994) [quoted in (2002) 47 McGill L.J. 389, 394 n. 14](emphasis added by blogger). 

It is interesting to note that this doctrine also plays a role in the legal code of Turkey, a Muslim nation (Ibid., at p. 394, footnote 14). My research indicates that the abuse of rights doctrine is even part of Islamic law (see link).

In Spain and Louisiana, unlike some other jurisdictions, malice or intentional bad faith is not a requirement for invoking this remedy. What then is an "abuse of right"? It is, as stated above, the "antisocial" exercise of a legal right that damages another. In the mosque case, it is beyond obvious that the construction of the mosque at this particular site inflicts grave emotional distress on the families whose loved ones were massacred at Ground Zero.

Shouldn't religious people, as the developers are, come to the conclusion, on their own, that it is wrong to inflict such grave emotional distress on the survivors? Should a legal argument be necessary at all? Shouldn't they recognize as religious and reasonable people a binding moral imperative not to inflict this grave and wholly unnecessary harm?

Mr. President, if you want a legal argument, here it is. Moreover, you can't duck the issue of abuse of rights by claiming that civil law concepts do not apply in the common law state of New York. In the common law, principles of equity applied in case law can be used to protect against the abuse of rights [see 

In my view, both moral and even legal grounds support a new site for this mosque--and common sense, too, for which no law degree is necessary or recommended.

Update: This article makes the same point but without the legal aspect. Yet, I think the legal analysis set forth above adds great weight to the imperative that the mosque not be built at this particular site. The best and most comprehensive legal reasoning favors no construction at this site.

Update (8/20/2010): Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer nails it again in this piece.

New York Archbishop Understands

That's how it seems from this quote on the Ground Zero Mosque controversy:

“Those who wonder about the wisdom of the situation of the mosque, near such a wounded site, ask what I think are some legitimate questions that I think deserve attention,” he said.

Source link (emphasis added).

That comment is very different from the President and others who jump the gun to recklessly accuse those of us who oppose this location of xenophobia, bigotry, and opposing religious freedom. In any event, all the name-calling in the world will not work when the issue is so important and the location is so wrong and, frankly, disrespectful and offensive.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Saltue to Classics Scholar Bernard Knox

Read the fine obituary at this N.Y. Times link.  Below is an excerpt describing how Knox was led to return to the study of the classics:
The O.S.S. [Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA] later sent him into northern Italy for an equally dangerous mission with the Italian underground, and it was there that he rekindled his passion for the classics. Holed up in an abandoned villa, he discovered a bound copy of Virgil and opened it to a section of the first Georgic that begins, “Here right and wrong are reversed; so many wars in the world, so many faces of evil.”
Professor Knox recalled, in “Essays Ancient and Modern,” “These lines, written some 30 years before the birth of Christ, expressed, more directly and passionately than any modern statement I knew of, the reality of the world I was living in: the shell-pocked, mine-infested fields, the shattered cities and the starving population of that Italy Virgil so loved, the misery of the whole world at war.”
He continued, “As we ran and crawled through the rubble I thought to myself: ‘If I ever get out of this, I’m going back to the classics and study them seriously.’ ”

 Blogger Comment: I share his love of Vergil.  Knox wrote the introduction to Robert Fagles' translation of the Aeneid, a translation I found quite pleasing. See this related Catholic Analysis post  from Dec. 18, 2006. The above excerpt reminds me of my favorite Vergilian line: "Perhaps one day it will be pleasing to remember even these things" (Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Guest Blog: Why Only Male Priests

The following guest blog arose in response to my point that we often fail to take the time to explain the basis for the all-male priesthood. Ryan gives a good explanation of that basis below, although there are even more reasons as contained in my book Unpopular Catholic Truths (link at left).

Ryan has left a new comment on your post "Girl Altar Servers Endorsed by Vatican Newspaper": 

Indeed. I've recently been dialoguing with a young Catholic friend who wants to know more about our faith. In fact, the issue of a male-only priesthood was one of her questions. When I gave her my answer, she asked--and I paraphrase-- "Why don't more Catholics know about this stuff?!" 

Here is my answer (slightly modified), which you may feel free to post as a guest blog if you wish.

While we can speculate on why He chose to do so, the simplest answer to the "Why can't women be priests?" question is that Jesus chose twelve men to be His priests. Those twelve men, in imitation of Jesus, also chose men to be priests. So the Church does not consider herself authorized to change a sacrament (in this case Holy Orders) as it was instituted by Jesus and handed on by His Apostles.

This is what we call "Tradition", with a capital "T", and I would assert that it's not altogether a bad thing. However, I realize that this argument will remain unconvincing to many, if not most, so let's look at this issue in greater depth.

Look at it this way. The priest is like an icon, an image that represents and, in a certain sense, makes present a spiritual reality. In this case, the priest is an icon of Christ. Since Christ was a man, it is fitting (to use a Thomistic word) that the priest should also be a man. 

But there is more to it than that. You see, the Catholic priesthood is bound up with spiritual fatherhood, which in turn is bound up with human sexuality, by which I mean not merely the conjugal act, but the whole manner in which the sexes relate to each other and to their children physically, psychologically and spiritually. 

The priest, as an icon of Christ, not only represents but also makes present the spiritual reality of Christ's espousal to the Church. Precisely through the agency of the priest, Christ continues to be a husband to the Church as a whole, and a father to her members individually, which is why we call the priest "Father".

Now this is very counter-cultural, but the Church insists that the sexes are not mere human constructs, changeable and interchangeable. Rather, they are divinely ordered. Equal in dignity, certainly, but different and complementary. Thus, men cannot conceive and bear children, nor can women impregnate. 

This difference and complementarity is more than just biological, but concerns the unique manner in which the sexes relate to each other and to their children (fatherhood and motherhood). As indicated in the Old Testament, God's manner of relating to His children, while it contains elements of the feminine/motherly, is properly represented by the masculine/fatherly. This is confirmed in the New Testament by the incarnation of His Son as a man, and witnessed to in the Church by the ordination of men to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

In short, the whole mission of the priesthood, which is the mission of Christ Himself, is to manifest the love of the Father for His children, precisely as a Father. And this, I would suggest, is why priests can only be men, as Christ instituted the sacrament of Holy Orders. 


Having just finished the posthumously published biography of  St. Augustine of Hippo by Henry Chadwick, I can reaffirm my earlier, posted recommendation to read it. Here are a few excerpts that I wish to bring to your attention. The excerpts, especially the last two, center on Augustine's own expressed intellectual humility as a Christian thinker and writer--a humility also famously expressed by the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Teresa of Jesus. With company like that, is any of us exempt from applying such humility as readers and commentators toward the writings of whoever happens to be our favorite theological writer, whether laity, priest, bishop, cardinal, Church Father, or even Doctor of the Church? To the magisterium, we owe obedience; but to writings not forming part of the magisterium, we should imitate Augustine's recommended caution.

1. A famous Augustine saying is worth remembering: Audi partem altera ("Hear the other side." K.L. 760; K.L.="Kindle Location");

2. "Augustine came to make it a principle in all negotiation, or in any controversy whatever, however wide the gulf may be that is to be bridged, that the other party must be treated as a partner in a shared discussion of a common problem and always, unless there is hard evidence to the contrary, as a man of good will and integrity" (K.L. 760);

3. "Augustine himself had a deep abhorrence of being treated as a person whom people wanted to follow without pondering his reasons. He himself feared that the faith itself might suffer damage if people simply accepted his position as an authoritative statement of it. . . . From time to time Augustine warns his readers about his past mistakes [as a writer]. . . . Already in 412 he planned to publish a list of corrections to his published writings. The work envisaged appeared at last in 427 entitled 'Reconsiderations' (Retractiones--the Latin word does not mean 'retractions') . . . ." (K.L. 1765-72; emphasis added by blogger);

4. "I should wish no one to embrace all my teaching except in those matters in which he has seen that I have made no mistake . . . . I have not followed myself in everything. I think that by God's mercy I have made progress in my writing, but not at all that I have reached perfection . . . . A man is of good hope if the last day of his life finds him still improving" (quoting Augustine, K.L. 1772-75; emphasis added by blogger).