Monthly Archives: April 2015

Phenomenology of the Mass, Part II

It was pointed out in the comment box for Part I of this series that there are more Trinitarian elements in the EF than I noted. First, during the Priest and Server exchange, the “Glory be to the Father” is said. Furthermore, many Introits have a “Glory be to the Father.”

Moreover, we could add that the triplicity of the Kyrie is itself trifold in the EF, being said Nine Times.

At any rate, let me continue my analysis. I should be clear that I am analyzing the Mass said on weekdays in the OF, and the Low Mass of the EF.


Extraordinary Form Ordinary Form
First Reading First Reading
Gradual Responsorial Psalm
Cleanse my heart and my lips, O almighty God, who didst cleanse the lips of the Prophet Isaias with a burning coal, and vouchsafe, through Thy gracious mercy, so to purify me, that I may worthily announce Thy holy Gospel. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen. Almighty God, cleanse my heart and my lips that I may worthily proclaim your Gospel.
Yet another prayer in preparation.  
Silently: By the words of the Gospel may our sins be blotted out. Silently: By the words of the Gospel may our sins be blotted out.


In the typical Low Mass of the EF, the Gloria is prayed. The Gloria is not prayed in the typical OF Mass. The Gloria is emphatically a prayer of worship, of praise. It is also decisively Trinitarian in Structure.

At this point, we can note a few complexities of analysis. At High Mass, the Gloria is sung, or rather chanted. It is a noble, ecstatic moment. The people chanting the great prayer of praise. Now, every Sunday Mass of the OF involves such singing, or at least recitation. At some OF Masses, the beautiful Latin chants are utilized. At some, various new melodies are utilized, some better than others. Sometimes, it is simply recited. But at Low Mass, it is not recited or chanted by the people.

We thus run into the important phrase in Sacrosanctum Concilium, which is a text of an Ecumenical Council, that it is desired that there be “actual participation” (translations vary). Our Lord was God made flesh. Hence, “being in the body” is integral to Christian economy. It is my opinion that such “being in the body” was what the Fathers of Vatican II meant when they uttered this directive for liturgical reform. At the Gloria, and at the Pater Noster, and at numerous other parts, the OF has the congregation itself reciting or chanting the prayers with, or in dialogue with, the priest. This “physical” participation does allow a way of entering the dialogical character of the Mass not typically enacted in the Low Mass. True, “active participation” can have various forms. Its essence is internal prayer. Nonetheless, the becoming human of the Word is that integral factor that, I think, guided the Fathers at the Council to point the reform in this direction. Anyone who has assisted at an Eastern Liturgy will readily note that such “physical” participation is the very warp and woof of such a liturgy.

Thus, we have an “on the other hand” to consider. What are the different kinds of “ways of being” that emerge from these two different kinds of Mass, the High Mass / ordinary OF (with physical participation) and the Low Mass?

Put aside caricatures. I am not saying that the Low Mass involves being inert and no physical movement, etc. It does involve limited vocal participation. So, perhaps a better word is “Vocal”. It is difficult to analyze. I grew up immersed in Liberal Chicago Catholicism. Then went to Notre Dame, where, by God’s providence I met believers who showed me the Rosary and spoke well of the Church. I was blessed, in D.C. while a graduate student, to assist at Masses with a well-known Cistercian Monk, who chanted the Novus Ordo so marvelously (High Masses) that I nearly died of the beauty. I appreciated that the “vocally dialogical” character of the Novus Ordo could be so profound, so utterly un-banal. (Unlike many instantiations of it in the suburbs.) I then discovered the Eastern Liturgies, esp. Maronite and Melkite. Once again, and twice again, I was blown away by the beauty and high theology. “True Worship” I said to myself. Only recently have I been experiencing the EF, thanks to Pope Benedict’s famous document.

I am making no caricature – not consciously. And this is my background, which surely affects my analysis. My suggestion is that the way of being when vocal participation occurs is more complete, “fuller”; for me, more satisfying. Which is why, if I attend a Sunday EF, I go to High Mass. In short, it seems to me that I am invited “up”, “towards the sanctuary” when I am, together with the servers, responding and dialoguing with the priest. I found it interesting that a congregation recently, almost spontaneously, joined the servers at Low Mass saying, “Non sum dignus ut intres…” whereas, if I am not mistaken, the Missal calls for only the servers to make that response audibly.

Can there be a unique participation when one does not vocalize? I have heard the argument, “Yes”. Interestingly, the OF has an option of such a Mass. I experienced one or two in Laredo, TX. One can enter spiritually within the veil, contemplatively. I don’t deny this; I only think that this spiritual hack (me) can enter worship better when I vocalize. Then, it seems to me, do I enter worship more fully.

Let me make a related remark that cuts at this differently. Pius X wanted more “vocal participation”; so, he allowed hymns to be “tacked onto” the liturgy at the various parts. Why? Some say that the laity were not so easily able to enter the complex chants of the Mass. These hymns had good theology in the 20’s through the 50’s. But in the 70’s and 80’s they deteriorated; now they are quite inane.

Many recognized that to have hymns inserted into the liturgy left untapped the resources available in the Public Liturgy. Hence, many called for a reform (before the Council). Michael Davies said a reform was necessary – precisely to tap into the riches available but infrequently accessed.

So, I am suggesting that Pius X’s desire could be fulfilled if the very Graduals, etc., were recited by the laity, at least by a talented choir or schola. The OF has many such elements that are never accessed; instead, we hear banal hymns – unless we are lucky enough to worship at a place that utilizes the resources. (I am lucky enough.)

If we follow out on this suggestion, we could inquire whether it could be a natural development of the EF to extend, in some measure, the responses of the altar boys to the laity in general. If Benedict hoped for the “mutual enrichment” of the two forms of the Latin Rite, and I think he hoped for this, perhaps such an extension would constitute one such enrichment.

I have said nothing of the OF itself. However, the implication is clear in my first post. Indeed, quite clear. For the sacrificial language is notably lacking. The differentiation of priest and people is underplayed. The Gloria is also lacking in the daily Mass. Yet this is a very rich prayer. Observe also the power of the prayer the priest recites before preaching the Gospel. In the EF, it is truly of biblical proportions. We are facing sin and grace, light and darkness, death and life. We are not merely hoping for some good. The OF prayer is significantly muted by comparison. The difference we see here with these ordinary parts of the Mass is exacerbated when we examine the propers. (On that, see Lauren Priestas.)

Rahner on Christ’s Work

A 40 min. podcast on Rahner on the work of Christ. Examines his erroneous notion that Christ’s Cross was not a cause of the offer of grace.

Also treats Rahner’s erroneous teaching that the sacraments do not cause grace.

As always, Rahner is subtle and tries to evade obvious contradiction of dogma. Careful consideration exposes the errors.


Phenomenology of Two Masses: Part 1

Fr. Robert Sokolowski has developed a form of theology he calls “Theology of Disclosure”. It is a way of practicing theology informed by the discipline of philosophical phenomenology.

Phenomenology is not “descriptive” analysis. It involves a difficult “change of approach” or viewpoint, one that requires us to think being in terms of how it is manifested to us, and correlatively to think of the different ways in which we approach being. Things are as they manifest themselves; they manifest themselves as they are. There are essential structures of manifestation. All of this is very difficult to get one’s mind around. Indeed, one might take solace in knowing that the founder of phenomenology realized the difficulty and sometimes stated that what he had taken to be a phenomenological analysis was really only descriptive analysis.

That said, we can really get somewhere with at least an attempt to see the various ways in which being manifests itself and, correlatively, the ways in which we approach being, and vice versa.

Sokolowski made this application, among other realms, in the arena of liturgical and sacramental theology. I wish not simply to report his achievements but to follow out some further explorations in this area. If the endeavor is not successful entirely because not truly a child of the phenomenological reduction (as this change of viewpoint is called), it may perhaps be stabbing in the right direction.

Briefly, then, let us look at the opening of Two Masses, the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form.


We notice immediately distinct beginnings, after the sign of the Cross:


Extraordinary Form Novus Ordo
Priest kisses the altar.
“I will go in to the altar of God.” The server responds, “To God who giveth joy to my youth.” The priest then beseeches God to consider him set apart from sinful heathen. Priest and server alternate exclamations and exhortations. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Or another a similar alternative formula.
Then Priest Confesses to Almighty God his sins, beseeching forgiveness. Everyone, including priest, confess sins together.
Then server (and the people actively and interiorly) confess their sins.
Priest prays that the congregation’s sins be forgiven. Priest prays that everyone’s sins (his included with the congregation’s) be forgiven.
Then the priest grants everyone absolution.
Finally, priest goes in to the altar and kisses it.
More prayers beseeching God’s mercy for sins of everyone.
Then there is an Introit.
Kyrie Kyrie (unless it was said in lieu of confession)


What “ways of being” are manifested in each liturgy? The extraordinary form brings out Mass as Sacrifice. Correlatively, we are to gear our approach as that to sacrifice, being offered by a sacred minister, through whom we offer our prayers and participate in our distinct way. It is a service to God. Whereas, the Novus Ordo approaches liturgy in the context of fellowship. Now, as a matter of fact, the Mass is primarily a sacrificial event. This is a matter of doctrine, not opinion. See Pius XII Mediator Dei and the constant Tradition. So, the EF gears its participants for this mode of targeting the event (approaching the “being of the Mass) better.

On the other hand, at first sight we see a more Trinitarian element to the NO (absolutely no pejorative intent or implication here; I am saving time by abbreviation). There is an explicitly Trinitarian ring to the NO. This is not suggested in words at this point in the EF. Nonetheless, there is the suggestion in the deeds. How? Because the EF involves one precise direction: Towards the altar. To whom is the sacrifice made? Ultimately, to the Father. This Trinitarian implication of the gesture is brought out explicitly throughout the Canon. The People approach the Father through the Son, who is represented distinctly by the Sacred Minister. Hence, the very structure of the entire worship is “ontologically / gesticularly” Trinitarian. In the NO, it is standard practice for the priest to “face the people” from behind the altar (during the canon) or from near the “chair.” This is not mandated in the rubrics, so far as I can tell, but it is what almost invariably happens. The altar, then, really becomes a “table”. What is stressed is not sacrifice but communion (reception of the Eucharist). Pius XII teaches that the essence of the Mass is sacrifice, and that reception of the Eucharist is most highly encouraged – but it is not mandated for an integral Mass. (Only the participation of the priest is so required.)

If we simply stop here: It is no wonder that so few Catholics really recall that the Mass is a Sacrifice to honor God and appease his righteous anger for the sins of the world (and our sins). Those who do are heroic, for they exegete the NO through the lens of sound doctrine. However, the sacrificial character of the Mass is not as it were signaled so clearly as to call the participants to approach the event in this manner. In short, in order to comport ourselves in the right way for a particular manifestation of being, we must have some clues. These clues should be embedded in the very event, rather than foisted onto the event from afar. For instance, cherished family portraits are framed well and placed beautifully; or they are collected in a handsome album. In this way, those who approach are invited to approach with a proper respect and nostalgia for their loved ones. The EF does this with the placement of the altar, the priest’s approach thereto, and the Trinitarian structure of the worship. The NO does not exhibit the Trinitarian structure in its (typical) action and does not bring out the sacrificial character (not yet at this point of the liturgy), with the exception of the initial kiss of the altar. But note: That initial kiss begins straight away, without preparation. Such a procedure can lead to a certain familiarity. The lengthy preparation to ascend to the altar in the EF calls for a “fear of the Lord”, not a terror of servility, but an honoring that recognizes Magnificence.


Next, the EF presents two distinct confessions of sins, the priest’s and the server’s (and people’s). The priest is set apart. He is not the congregation; the congregation is not he. He has a sacred role to perform. They assist him in this: They are present with him, in their place and in their role. His service is primarily for the honor and worship of God; secondarily for the nourishment of the faithful. Is this neglect of the good of the congregation? Do they feel lonely? Do they need accompaniment and fellowship? Affirmation? Emphatically, this is not abandonment of the people. This is not neglect. To honor God above all is man’s highest activity. Man’s happiness is only in reaching out. In total “self-gift” as John Paul put it. Performing the liturgy precisely as an act of service to almighty God is the lifting out of self that makes man happy. By the lifting of my hands to God, I come to myself. Further, the community is built up most in this mode. Why? Because we have a greater union with one another through our union with God. If each person is united with God, each will be more concerned for the other than if each is thrust upon each as a focus of attention. After all, you cannot meet my need. Not even the Sacred Minister can, as man, meet my need. He can do so only as Christ’s representative. When he stands their behind the altar affirming me, he gives me human help. This is good, but not good enough. I need divine help. I must be brought outside myself. When I encounter only human others, I am left in my agony (or my passing pleasures). When I encounter God, I am taken up into ecstasy.

In the NO, priest and people together confess their sins. (Unless of course another option is used. And frequently enough, we see other options used. These are all well and good, but they do not involve that very important formula.) Similarly, in the NO, the priest only offers one prayer for everyone, beseeching God’s forgiveness. In the EF, he offers a prayer for himself and a distinct one for others and finally, absolution to everyone. There is no absolution in the NO. The distinction between priest and people is brought forth; they are each called to act according to their distinct gifts and place. This is not competition. It is order, actuality, being; for order is brought about through distinction.

There is no question of validity here. There is no question of liceity here. Both Masses are valid and licit. Both conduce to salvation. However, one is more apt to call the people to the attitude of sacrifice, which is precisely what the Mass essentially and primordially is. It is not secondly, it is not even “equiprimordially” sacrifice and fellowship / communion. It is primarily sacrifice, worship of God. One is more apt to bring out the distinction of roles of laity and priest. One is more apt gesticularly to invoke the Trinitarian structure of worship, although the opening of the NO brings this out explicitly and, with the exception of the sign of the Cross (which both share), the EF does not at this point.

Newman on The Problem of Religious Toleration

            Newman has a marvelous sermon on Religious Toleration, in which he lambasts members of the present Church (19th century England) for simply presenting God as “merciful” and not as “severe and just.” He notes that many are tempted simply to present a rosy picture of the faith and of the costs of discipleship. Why? Because men speak well of us, men don’t confront us, when we do so. When we do so, we are confronted, condemned, left out, persecuted. Thus, those who wish to please become effeminate: The Castrate the Church. I quote the great Cardinal:

            Regarding thus “the goodness” only, and not “the severity of God,” no wonder that they ungird their loins and become effeminate; no wonder that their ideal notion of a perfect Church, is a Church which lets every one go on his way, and disclaims any right to pronounce an opinion, much less inflict a censure on religious error.

            But those who think themselves and others in risk of an eternal curse, dare not be thus indulgent. Here then lies our want at the present day, for this we must pray,—that a reform may come in the spirit and power of Elias. We must pray God thus “to revive His work in the midst of the years;” to send us a severe Discipline, the Order of St. Paul and St. John, “speaking the Truth in love,” and “loving in the Truth,”—a Witness of Christ, “knowing the terror of the Lord,” fresh from the presence of Him “whose head and hairs are white like wool, as white as snow, and whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and out of His mouth a sharp sword,”—a Witness not shrinking from proclaiming His wrath, as a real characteristic of His glorious nature, though expressed in human language for our sakes, proclaiming the narrowness of the way of life, the difficulty of attaining Heaven, the danger of riches, the necessity of taking up our cross, the excellence and beauty of self-denial and austerity, the hazard of disbelieving the Catholic Faith, and the duty of zealously contending for it. Thus only will the tidings of mercy come with force to the souls of men, with a constraining power and with an abiding impress, when hope and {290} fear go together.

Holy Matrimony Podcast

A podcast on Holy Matrimony, treating the following:

1. The superiority of Virginity to the State of Matrimony.

2. The Three Blessings / Goods of Sacramental Marriage.

3. Sacramental Analysis of Marriage

4. Causal Analysis of Marriage

5. Consequent and related teachings

A Dialogue on Hell

    • You told me hell is a terrible doctrine. Indeed it is. Why did you say this?
      • Because no one would be evil forever.
    • So what are you doing about the future?
      • I’ve left Christianity. If they believe in hell, in evil forever, to hell with them.
    • Any higher hopes?
      • No. I’m making my way. Trying to be decent.
    • What if someone wants something more from you. Your wife?
      • Look, I bring home enough money. I treat her with respect. I have my own time then. I need some space.
    • What if you were for more?
      • Damn it! I’ve got myself and it’s enough that I’ve done things for my wife and kids. Get out of it. Get out of it. Get out of here.
    • You, good Sir, have opened this abode of yours – forever. A man cannot decide just for the here and now. You thought he could. That is necessarily to decide “only for this and now.” You have chosen your time. Since you however carry on, for a man’s soul cannot be killed, that snippet of time you seized as yours: This shall be yours. And this alone. And as it does not correspond to the aspirations of your heart, it shall tire you out, relentlessly. Day in. Day out. Always yearning for the Real, you shall have – yourself! Relentless time beating ever the same dismal note upon pained ears. Relentless pushing of the ground upon your sense of touch, as you lay supine, weary, rolling, tossing in your bed of pain. Relentless dim light upon eyes both straining and strained. The stench of fetid flesh rising. The deadening silence wailing.
      • This is nonsense. I shall not live. I shall not live; I shall die! I am a mortal man. Nothing survives after death. I take great solace in this, in the face of your dire warnings about meaning and transcendence. All nonsense! I am but dust, and unto dust shall I return.
    • Tell me, good Sir. Do you know what a “circle” is?
      • What? I have had little interest in circles since high school. What has this to do with the topic at hand?
    • We shall see in a moment.
      • Well, then, if you must: Yes, I know what a circle is. It is a line equidistant from a point.
    • And what is a line?
      • Length without breadth.
    • Without any breadth?
      • None.
    • Have you seen such a thing?
      • Never. Couldn’t. No drawn or constructed circle could be perfectly circular.
    • Then, it strikes me as a fancy of your imagination.
      • No it is no fancy. For I could not imagine a circle.
    • Why not?
      • I would point out, first, that a circle could not be visible to my eyes, for the line tracing a circle is breadthless. And that which is breadthless admits no light, being without surface. But a thing is visible only through light.
      • Then, I would note that my imagination as it were “piggy-backs” on my senses. I can imagine only that which I can picture. And I can picture that which has dimensive spread, for I picture a thing as colored, but that which has no dimensive spread has no color. Therefore, everything I picture has dimensive spread, but a circle’s line has no such dimensive spread. For by dimensive spread I mean not simply extension but extension with breadth. But the line is breadthless. If everything I picture has dimensive spread but a circle’s line has none, I cannot imagine the circle – that is, the line tracing the circle’s figure.
    • Indeed. You have saved me time and labor. Now, how can what cannot be pictured by known?
      • It is conceived, not pictured.
    • So you can conceive what you cannot picture?
      • I just have.
    • You have a power, then, that transcends the limits of imagination, a power whose object cannot be represented adequately in any physical medium?
      • What of it?
    • Let us call this a pure power.
      • A what?
    • A pure power. By contrast, a mixed power is a power the existence of which consists in a corporeal instrument; further, the exercise of such a power is the act of said instrument. My eye requires matter, and in the right disposition. My heart likewise. I cannot see without that matter. Should the eye be plucked out, I could not see. Should the matter dissolve, I should be blind.
    • By contrast, a pure power has an existence distinct from any corporeal instrument. And its act is not the act of a corporeal instrument. It is a sheer power, if you will.
      • Then, yes. If I can know a circle the way I take it that I do know it, then I know by a power that is a pure power.
    • We have, then, a refutation of your earlier thesis. For that which can fall apart is that which is composed. That which is not composed cannot fall part. For to fall apart is for elements ingredient to a whole to fall away from unity. The eye is composed of matter in a certain arrangement. So, too, the heart. The eye can decompose into its constituents. So too, the heart. These are composed; these can decay.
    • But say there was something that just was a certain form. Say there were a sheer “form”. For instance, not a circle in clay or steel or wood. Just “circularity itself”. Not a heart in this matter (my chest) or that matter (your chest) but just a “heart itself”. Of course, it is impossible for there to be a “pure heart” but just say there were. Better to suppose: Think of pure circularity. Not the circularity of this wood or that clay; just circularity itself. You can separate circularity from this clay, by molding the clay if it is wet or breaking it if it is dry. You can separate bricks and lumber in a house, thus ‘dissolving’ the form. Why? Because the form of a house, the form of a circle in clay, is just the shape of matter. Hence, such forms depend on matter to be. But could you separate “circularity” from “circularity”?
      • Of course not. What would it mean?
    • Indeed, that which is a sheer form cannot be separated from itself.
      • Yes.
    • You, then, my friend, are a deep mystery. For you have a capacity which transcends the physical world. A capacity to conceive. You can act cognitively in a way that no corporeal instrument could possibly act. Now, nothing can act beyond its essence. So, if you have a power to achieve an act that no corporeal instrument can accomplish, there is something about your essence that transcends the limits of the corporeal. Your essence involves a principle of being that is not merely the “arrangement” of matter. Your essence involves a principle of being which is in-corporeal. A principle of being that yields a “pure power”. In short, a pure form.
    • Now, how can we separate such a form from itself? How can it decompose? It cannot. It simply is if it is. It will not fall into nothingness. It is immortal. You shall not die. You shall die; you shall live! Despair not O Wicked Man; There is yet hope of God’s grace and your conversion

Dogmatic Moral Teachings

It is often said that the Church has never issued a dogmatic formulation on moral teaching. That most of her teaching is by the ordinary magisterium.

Two remarks. First, the second is true, the first is false. Most importantly, however, there are SCORES of infallible teachings on morals. E.g. masturbation is intrinsically evil, etc. Literally SCORES of infallible teachings on morals. The ordinary magisterium, teaching on a matter of faith and morals over a period of time, with moral unanimity, indeed teaches infallibly.

Second, Lyons I issued this declaration:

“Concerning fornication, which an unmarried man commits with an unmarried woman, there must not be any doubt at all that it is a mortal sin…” D 453.

This is a clear declaration of the Extraordinary Magisterium.

O Leo XIII – You Reigned Resplendently

Listen and rejoice at the clear and true words of the Great Leo XIII, from Sapientiae christianae:

14. But in this same matter, touching Christian faith, there are other duties whose exact and religious observance, necessary at all times in the interests of eternal salvation, become more especially so in these our days. Amid such reckless and widespread folly of opinion, it is, as We have said, the office of the Church to undertake the defense of truth and uproot errors from the mind, and this charge has to be at all times sacredly observed by her, seeing that the honor of God and the salvation of men are confided to her keeping. But, when necessity compels, not those only who are invested with power of rule are bound to safeguard the integrity of faith, but, as St. Thomas maintains: “Each one is under obligation to show forth his faith, either to instruct and encourage others of the faithful, or to repel the attacks of unbelievers.”(12) To recoil before an enemy, or to keep silence when from all sides such clamors are raised against truth, is the part of a man either devoid of character or who entertains doubt as to the truth of what he professes to believe.

Can the Catholic Church Gain from non-Catholic churches?

This is a most important question. And one the answer to which will surprise people on all sides.

For, one group will say, “Of course the Catholic Church can gain. She is not the full Church of Christ anyway. There are many churches of the Church of Christ that are not Catholic and which therefore can teach the Catholic churches.”

Another group will say, “If the Catholic Church is the very Church founded by Jesus Christ, then she can gain nothing from non-Catholic churches.”

To answer this question, we must begin with some basics. First of all, the second group states a truth of dogmatic authority in its “if” clause: The Catholic Church most certain is the very Church founded by Jesus Christ. There is a “full identity” here; hence, no distinction at all.

But second, this does not mean that the Catholic Church can gain nothing from non-Catholic churches. Why not?

We must distinguish the essence of the Church – the ingredients of which I refer to as her intensive plenitude, e.g. her sanctifying power, her governing power, his teaching power, her holiness, catholicity, etc. – from her “lived life”. The “lived life” of the Church refers to the quality of the lives of her individual members, the quality of the theological reflection at some given age in some given place, the quality of the relations among the members, the quality of the liturgy, etc. The “lived life” of the Church may suffer in one age or another. There come times when Catholics do not live their faith well, run through the motions of the liturgy, do not study theology and philosophy, do not love the poor, do not order the temporal order to Christ the King, etc. For instance, before St. Francis, the Italians were far from the way of Christ and his Church. St. Francis brought about a renewal. At the times of the Protestant objections, many Catholics including priests were not living holy lives ordered to Christ the King. At different times in the Church’s history, liturgical reforms were made that were not so edifying. For example, the reform of the Divine Office in the early 16th century. It was a badly done reform; the Church eventually went back to her prior practice.

When we make these distinctions between the essence and the lived life, we can further reflect on our non-Catholic brothers and sisters. We can ask ourselves, “Is it possible that a Greek Orthodox liturgy is more beautiful than the liturgy as practiced in many Catholic parishes?” Now, I think just about anyone who assists at an Orthodox liturgy will agree: “Yes, they do liturgy better than do many Catholic parishes.” Thus, we can ask, “Can the Orthodox teach us how to do liturgy better?” I think surely everyone will now agree: “Yes, they most certainly can.”

Let’s continue. We can even ask more incisively: “Does the Orthodox liturgy itself – not just in its practice – not give us an objectively more beautiful presentation and more comprehensive catechetical portrait of our faith (excepting of course the Roman primacy and certain other crucial truths, such as some Marian dogmas) than that given in the Novus Ordo? Here, I contend the answer is, “Yes, it surely does.”

But someone will object: If you say that, you are questioning the validity of the Novus Ordo. Answer: No I am not. One can hold – and on grounds – that some liturgy is more adequate an expression of the Eternal Faith than another liturgy. Adequate here would be judged in terms of the comprehensive and articulate expression of the Church’s faith and in terms of the goal of liturgy, the pointing of man to God in fitting religious worship. Of secondary concern, but not of no concern, would be the “accessibility” of the liturgical reality. This is a concern, but it is of secondary importance.

Now, a full evaluation of the matter would be complex. It would involve analysis of the precise prayers, the order, the movements, the vestments, etc., of the liturgies. How well do the prayers convey, substantially, the faith of the Church? That Christ died for our sins to snatch us from the fires of hell! That Christ is God and man! That the Holy Trinity accepts the sacrifice of Christ our High Priest. That through the liturgy we are sanctified and ushered towards glory. That we must repent of our sins. That the saints are in heaven with us as we pray. That we rely on them. Etc. Now at the liturgies of John Chrysostom, the congregation sings again and again to God implorying his mercy and repenting of sin. Sanctification in light, removal of darkness. These are stressed. Christ as God and man. These are stressed. The liturgy is accessible though transcendent and even foreign. It lifts us up to worship.

Is that level of richness present expressively in the Novus Ordo? Is the saving sacrifice of Christ as abundantly expressively present in the Novus Ordo as in the Greek Orthodox liturgy? What of his holy Godhead, his exalted humanity, his kingly power and rule, etc.? These are serious questions. Of course, the one same sacrifice of the Mass is present; that is not in question.

Let’s return to our opening question: Can the Catholic Church gain from non-Catholic churches. The answer is indeed surprising. The answer is yes, contrary to what some, who love Tradition, may think. Yet paradoxically, this answer does not mean a dilution of Tradition, contrary to the misguided and the rebels. It means that we must be insightful enough to realize that the current “lived life” of the Church may be very sick, just as it was at the time of St. Francis. She may, in her members and expressed life, need to undergo an authentic reformation. And sometimes non-Catholic churches can point the way towards a healthier lived life.

Further, as should be evident by now for the reader, the Ordinary Form of the liturgy might stand to gain from consideration of the Extraordinary Form. The Novus Ordo may stand to gain from consideration of the Mass of many ages. The prayers, the gestures, the movements, the vestments, the sequences; the deep theology of the Cross, the battle of sin and grace, the transcendence of God, etc. Could it be that in an age in which we focus on the secondary concern – accessibility – we have lost sight of the primary concerns of liturgy? Could it be that accessibility thus stressed has eclipsed the Theo-centric character of liturgy?

The questions are double edged. Chiefly and immediately, they target the bad performances of the Novus Ordo. That is the chief ill of the day. For it is evident that the transcendence of God is not infrequently eclipsed by the very character of the way the Mass is celebrated. Balloon masses, etc. These are utterly banal; an insult to the human person. But secondly, and less forcefully but not without all force, the foregoing questions may well target the Novus Ordo itself. Not as anything illicit much less invalid. Not as anything false. Indeed, not. But rather as, perhaps, something less comprehensively expressive of the faith as would be desirable. See, e.g., the concerns of Siri, Ottaviani, even J. Ratzinger, et alia.

Final objection: But even to raise such questions is disobedience.

Final retort: Do you accept Paul VI’s missal? (He answers: Yes.) What are its roots? (Vatican II). You’re correct, though of course the normal interpretation of Vatican II might be different from what the texts themselves stipulate. For instance, the next never said that Latin should go on holiday. By the way, I got that expression from Cardinal Arinze. But back to my retort: What are the roots of Vatican II? (The liturgical movement of the 1900s). And was that movement suggesting a change in the then current liturgy? (Yes.) So it is not per se rebellious to suggest a change? (Well, hmm. I guess not.) No indeed. It must be done with tact and respect, loyalty to Rome and to the Great Tradition, and with an eye on the eternal glory of God and the salvation of souls.

Again and on a different note: Can a community of reformed Christians teach the Catholic Church anything? Indeed yes. How zealous many are! How deeply immersed in the bible. And yes how thoughtful. No, not all evangelicals are “fundamentalists” without brains. Many are very thoughtful. Indeed, I heard Denis Prager on the radio yesterday talking with a group of Christians who are scientists arguing scientifically for the perspective of an ordered, divinely ordered, world. This is excellent. And much needed. How much of the bible and history do Catholics know? Do they know how to go to a disaster area and lend a hand? Do they challenge the culture or just go along with it? Well, our evangelical brothers and sisters can teach us considerably on this score.

By the way, none of this is new to God’s plans. Who was it who told Moses how to organize the people in the desert? Not Aaron. Not Moses himself. No. His non-Jewish father-in-law! The bible is filled with surprises such as this.

The point is, we must measure our standards not by current practice alone but by the weight of Tradition, Divine Transcendence, etc. It just is a fact: Many people are currently bored with the current parochial practice of Catholicism.

If man is deep and built for transcendence, we will become relevant in the measure to which our lived Catholicism becomes deep and transcendent (not fickle and flighty), radically theo-centric (not anthropocentric), Godward (not manward), accessible yet difficult and wonderful (not conquerable, banal and forgettable).

Is the Bible Inspired and Inerrant in All its Parts?

Yes. But someone will object: Vatican II does not teach that. Vatican II only states:

“We must acknowledge that the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures” (Dei verbum, art. 11).

The objector comments: The council only teaches that a certain body of truth made it into the Scriptures for the sake of our salvation. Hence, the scriptures have errors in them, but also the basic truth. In short, they have inerrant truth, but also errors.

What are we to make of this objection? Sadly, scores of theology professors adhere to this very understanding. But there is no ground for this position.

A key hermeneutical rule is that a more precise and clear statement interprets a less precise and unclear statement. Now, Vatican I, Leo XIII, and other popes teach clearly that the books of Sacred Scripture are “sacred and canonical” in all their parts. Why? Because they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Dei Filius, chap. 2).

Leo XIII had to make this teaching even clearer in his marvelous Providentissimus Deus:

“For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true” (art. 20).

Benedict XV backs him up in Spiritus Paraclitus:

“St. Jerome’s teaching on this point serves to confirm and illustrate what our predecessor of happy memory, Leo XIII, declared to be the ancient and traditional belief of the Church touching the absolute immunity of Scripture from error: So far is it from being the case that error can be compatible with inspiration, that, on the contrary, it not only of its very nature precludes the presence of error, but as necessarily excludes it and forbids it as God, the Supreme Truth, necessarily cannot be the Author of error” (art. 16).

Before Vatican II, some rebels were already rejecting these teachings. Thus, Pius XII had to reiterate it in Divino afflante Spiritu:

“When, subsequently, some Catholic writers, in spite of this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine, by which such divine authority is claimed for the “entire books with all their parts” as to secure freedom from any error whatsoever, ventured to restrict the truth of Sacred Scripture solely to matters of faith and morals, and to regard other matters, whether in the domain of physical science or history, as “obiter dicta” and – as they contended – in no wise connected with faith, Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII in the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus, published on November 18 in the year 1893, justly and rightly condemned these errors and safe-guarded the studies of the Divine Books by most wise precepts and rules” (art. 1).

The case is closed. The papal teaching firmly and clearly establishes that the Scriptures are inspired and inerrant in all their parts. There is not one part of Scripture that is not inspired. They are all inspired. Hence, he goes against the Teaching of Holy Mother Church who contends otherwise.

But the objector returns: what about Vatican II? It doesn’t state that clearly.

The answer: We must interpret the unclear by the clear.

It goes without saying, though perhaps one must say it, that one must interpret the Scripture properly. The ancient fathers and the Magisterium are our surest guides in this matter.