Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ascension Thur-Sunday


It's Ascension Thursday again, and with that comes the yearly opining about the fact that most dioceses in the U.S. have moved its observation to the following Sunday, and how it'd be soo much better for us all to observe it on the actual day.

I do get it. In an ideal world, society would be arranged in a way so that observing holy days would not be problematic at all. I wish we lived in that world, but of course we don't. There are reasons that the Church has allowed bishops to move the observance.

Here's something worth considering, or so I think. Absolutely no precept prevents anyone from going to mass on Ascension Thursday, even if the local diocese does not observe it then. And nothing prevents you (as an individual) from praying the Office for the Ascension on Ascension Thursday. So why is it so important to people to make Ascension Thursday a holy day of obligation for everyone else?

I know I'm getting soft in my old age, but I've gradually come to recognize the superior wisdom of the Church in many of the "relaxing" changes made over the last 60 years (and the relaxations before that). Here's what I see as the wisdom in moving mid-week holy days of obligation to Sundays:

  1. More people who might not otherwise make it will make it, just by the fact of being in church on Sunday--more people de facto get to celebrate the feast day.
  2. Nobody--particularly those with rigid work schedules--has to be put in the position of missing an HDO and worrying (justified or not) that they are sinning--or actually sinning.
  3. Those who like me will do the necessary to go don't have to make special arrangements with schools and/or drag the whole fam to relatively inconveniently timed masses.
In short, our society has made it progressively more difficult to observe holy days during the week.


Now, if there's a compellingly good reason not to move it, so be it, but if we can accommodate and move, I say do it.

I've noticed that there is some rigorist/traditionalist notion that making things harder and more inconvenient makes them somehow better and more desirable. I think this notion stems from spiritual pride--particularly in the cases where one looks at others and thinks ill of them ("they're just lazy/not devout enough") for not being inclined to take up the same, more rigorous forms of devotion. I don't think most people who feel this way are even particularly conscious of it, but I suspect if they examined their consciences, they may find it is so. I know for myself, I have progressively become more aware of such tendencies in my own life over the years.

As for myself, I've decided to submit my judgment to that of the Church. If She says that, in our current cultural milieu, this or that is or is not required, I'll follow it. I won't try to make up new obligations for others that She doesn't give us. I may (and actually do) take additional devotions and even obligations upon myself, both personal and as a lay Dominican, but I don't think everyone should do those, much less that they should be enshrined into canon law.

This is not to say that "doing the minimum" is a good aspiration by any means, only that I think we should not "tie up big burdens that are hard to bear and lay them on others' shoulders." (Matt 23:4) It's one thing to challenge and inspire people to be better by the excellence of one's own life, quite another to try to insist that they be better (and think ill of them when they aren't).

The reality is that we are all called to be perfect as Christ and the Father are perfect (Matt 5:48, Jo 10:30). That's a tall order that none of us is able to achieve of our own accord (Ro 3:10,20). The obligations of the Church walk a fine line between inducing us towards living up to that ideal and creating opportunities for yet more sin. St. Paul wrote about how the Law, in a sense, created sin (Ro 7:7ff).  He also wrote about the grace and freedom we have in Christ--that it is not our perfection that makes us perfect but rather the merits of Christ being attributed to us through grace (Ro 3:24, passim). Does that mean we should sin more that grace may abound more? "Absolutely not!," he answered emphatically (Ro 6:2). And yet it remains that our fundamental orientation under the New Law is towards grace and perfection in Christ, not of our own works--lest anyone of us should boast (Eph 2:9).

So I think the Church, while Her various laws and precepts have changed over the years, is wise to minimize those which may inadvertently lead to yet more sin. And besides, surely there are plenty of ways to encourage and lead people to greater holiness than ecclesiastical law?


P.S. One of my Facebook buddies suggested the idea of simply making it not an obligation but still observing it on Thursday. That's not a bad idea, in my book.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

On Filial Submission to the Roman Pontiff

Contra: The Charge of Ultramontansim

Why is it that papal critics rashly jump to the accusation of ultramontanism if you defend the pope against their criticism?

How many times have I been told, "you know, the Pope is not infallible in _everything_ he says?" I'm like, "duh. Yes, I know that. Say hello to my little friend, Mr. Straw Man. You two seem to know each other already."

Saying that we should receive papal teaching, whether infallible or not, from a standpoint of filial submission is not, I believe, ultramontane. Saying that we should presume the most generous interpretation that is in accord with Tradition is not, I think, ultramontane.

Can you believe Pope Francis wrote this?? "Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: 'He who heareth you, heareth me' ... if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians [or random laity on the internet]."

Oh wait, he didn't. That was Pope Piux XII in Humani Generis, 20.

Baltimore Catechism
148. Did Christ intend that the special power of chief teacher and ruler of the entire Church should be exercised by Saint Peter alone?

Christ did not intend that the special power of chief teacher and ruler of the entire Church should be exercised by Saint Peter alone, but intended that this power should be passed down to his successor, the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, who is the Vicar of Christ on earth and the visible head of the Church.

Code of Canon Law
Can. 752 Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it. (my emphasis)


One could go on. Our Tradition is firmly in the camp of preferring filial submission to the Pope. The fact that the Pope, when not speaking ex cathedra, _can_ be wrong does not change this basic posture or give one license to unrestrainedly level public criticisms and suggestions or outright claims of promoting heresy.

Our response, when the Pope teaches something that challenges our own understanding of faith and morals, should be to question our own understanding rather than the Holy Father's. It should be to generously try to interpret what the Holy Father is teaching within the context of Tradition.

It should not be to rattle off an anxious and accusatory article or blog post, start blabbing about our concerns and criticisms all over the internet, start demanding "clarification," creating "open letters" and collecting signatories, and so on. Posting "public theses" on the "door" of the internet is a distinctly Protestant act, not Catholic.

And so I think those who are inclined to do such need to be much more reticent: more reticent in their criticisms of the hierarchy--especially the pope; more reticent in how they choose to criticize (i.e., using proper ecclesiastical channels if there is real concern, rather than the internet), and more reticent in their completely unjustifiable accusations of ultramontanism when they are challenged for such behavior.