"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Cardinal Ratzinger Speaks on the Ecclesiology of Vatican II

__________________________ Conference of Cardinal Ratzinger at the opening of the Pastoral Congress of the Diocese of Aversa (Italy) On the afternoon of 15 September 2001, at the invitation of Archbishop Mario Milano, His Eminence, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, opened the Pastoral Congress of the Diocese of Aversa (Italy) dedicated to a re-reading of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. This is a translation of Cardinal Ratzinger's opening lecture in Italian.

Just after the First World War, Romano Guardini coined an expression that quickly became a slogan for German Catholics: "An event of enormous importance is taking place: the Church is awakening within souls". The result of this awakening was ultimately the Second Vatican Council. Through its various documents it expressed and made part of the patrimony of the whole Church something that, during four decades full of ferment and hope (1920 to 1960), had been maturing in knowledge gained through faith. To understand Vatican II one must look back on this period and seek to discern, at least in outline, the currents and tendencies that came together in the Council. I will present the ideas that came to the fore during this period and then describe the fundamental elements of the Council's teaching on the Church.

I. The Church, the Body of Christ 1. The Image of the Mystical Body "The Church is awakening within souls". Guardini's expression had been wisely formulated, since it finally recognized and experienced the Church as something within us—not as an institution outside us but something that lives within us. If until that time we had thought of the Church primarily as a structure or organization, now at last we began to realize that we ourselves were the Church. The Church is much more than an organization: it is the organism of the Holy Spirit, something that is alive, that takes hold of our inmost being. This consciousness found verbal expression with the concept of the "Mystical Body of Christ", a phrase describing a new and liberating experience of the Church. At the very end of his life, in the same year the Constitution on the Church was published by the Council, Guardini wrote: the Church "is not an institution devised and built by men ... but a living reality.... It lives still throughout the course of time. Like all living realities it develops, it changes ... and yet in the very depths of its being it remains the same; its inmost nucleus is Christ.... To the extent that we look upon the Church as organization ... like an association ... we have not yet arrived at a proper understanding of it. Instead, it is a living reality and our relationship with it ought to be—life" (La Chiesa del Signore, [English translation: "The Church of the Lord"]; Morcelliana, Brescia 1967, p. 160).

Today, it is difficult to communicate the enthusiasm and joy this realization generated at the time. In the era of liberalism that preceded the First World War, the Catholic Church was looked upon as a fossilized organization, stubbornly opposed to all modern achievements. Theology had so concentrated on the question of the primacy as to make the Church appear to be essentially a centralized organization that one defended staunchly but which somehow one related to from the outside. Once again it became clear that the Church was more than this—she is something we all bring forward in faith in a living way, just as the Church brings us forward. It became clear that the Church has experienced organic growth over the centuries, and continues to grow even today. Through the Church the mystery of the Incarnation is alive today: Christ continues to move through time. If we were to ask ourselves what element present from the very beginning could still be found in Vatican II, our answer would be: the Christological definition of the Church. J.A. MöhIer, a leader in the revival of Catholic theology after the devastation of the Enlightenment, once said: a certain erroneous theology could be caricatured with the short phrase: "In the beginning Christ created the hierarchy and had thus taken adequate care of the Church until the end of time". Opposed to this concept is the fact that the Church is the Mystical Body; Christ and His act of founding are never over but always new. In the Church Christ never belongs just to the past, He is always and above all the present and the future. The Church is the presence of Christ: He is contemporary with us and we are His contemporaries. The Church lives from this: from the fact that Christ is present in our hearts and it is there that Christ forms His Church. That is why the first word of the Church is Christ, and not herself. The Church is healthy to the extent that all her attention is focused on Him. The Second Vatican Council placed this concept masterfully at the pinnacle of its deliberations; the fundamental text on the Church begins with the words: Lumen gentium cum sit Christus: "since Christ is the Light of the World ... the Church is a mirror of His glory; she reflects His splendour". If we want to understand the Second Vatican Council correctly, we must always go back to this opening statement..

.. Next, with this point of departure, we must establish both the feature of her interiority and of her communitarian nature. The Church grows from within and moves outwards, not vice-versa. Above all, she is the sign of the most intimate communion with Christ. She is formed primarily in a life of prayer, the sacraments and the fundamental attitudes of faith, hope and love. Thus if someone should ask what must I do to become Church and to grow like the Church, the reply must be: you must become a person who lives faith, hope, and charity. What builds the Church is prayer and the communion of the sacraments; in them the prayer of the Church comes to meet us. Last summer I met a parish priest who told me that for many years there hadn't been a single vocation to the priesthood from his parish. What ought he do? We cannot manufacture vocations, it is the Lord who raises them up. Should we therefore stand by helpless? The priest decided to make a pilgrimage every year, a long and difficult pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Altötting to pray for vocations, and invited those who shared in this intention to join him in the pilgrimage and common prayer. Year after year the number of participants in this pilgrimage grew until finally, this year, the whole village with great joy, celebrated the first Mass in living memory said by a priest from the parish..

.. The Church grows from within: this is the meaning of the expression "Body of Christ". The phrase implies something more: Christ has formed a body for himself. If I want to find Him and make Him mine, I am directly called to become a humble and complete and full member of His Body, and, by becoming one of His members, becoming an organ of his Body in this world, I will be so for eternity. The idea of liberal theology that whereas Jesus on his own would be interesting, the Church would be a wretched reality, contradicts this understanding completely. Christ gives Himself only in His body, and never as a pure ideal. This means that He gives Himself, and the others, in the uninterrupted communion that endures through time and is His Body. It means that the Church is not an idea, it is a Body. The scandal of becoming flesh that Jesus' incarnation caused so many of His contemporaries, is repeated in the "scandalous character" of the Church. Jesus' statement is valid in this instance: "Blessed is he who is not scandalized in me". The communitarian nature of the Church necessarily entails its character as "we". The Church is not somewhere apart from us, it is we who constitute the Church. No one person can say "I am the Church", but each one of us can and ought to say, "we are the Church". This "we" does not represent an isolated group, but rather a group that exists within the entire community of all Christ's members, living and dead. This is how a group can genuinely say: "we are the Church". Here is the Church, in this open "we" that breaches social and political boundaries, and the boundary between heaven and earth as well. We are the Church. This gives rise to a co-responsibility and also the possibility of collaborating personally. From this understanding there derives the right to criticize but our criticism must be above all self-criticism.

Let us repeat: the Church is not "somewhere else"; nor is she "someone else". We ourselves build the Church. These ideas matured and led directly to the Council. Everything said about the common responsibility of the laity, and the legal forms that were established to facilitate the intelligent exercise of responsibility, are the result of this current of thought. Finally, the concept of the development and therefore of the historical dynamic of the Church belongs to this theme. A body remains identical to itself over the course of its life due to the fact that in the life process it constantly renews itself. For the great English Cardinal, Newman, the idea of development was the true and proper bridge to his conversion to Catholicism. I believe that the idea of development belongs to those numerous fundamental concepts of Catholicism that are far from being adequately explored. Once again it is Vatican II to which we owe the first solemn formulation of this idea in a Magisterial document. Whoever wants to attach himself solely to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures or to the forms of the Church of the Fathers imprisons Christ in "yesterday". The result is either a wholly sterile faith that has nothing to say to our times, or the arrogant assumption of the right to skip over 2,000 years of history, consign them to the dustbin of mistakes, and try to figure out what a Christianity would look like either according to Scripture or according to Jesus. The only possible result will be an artificial creation that we ourselves have made, devoid of any consistency. Genuine identity with the beginning in Christ can only exist where there is a living continuity that has developed the beginning and preserved the beginning precisely through this development.

  II Eucharistic Ecclesiology: Let us go back and look at developments in the pre-Conciliar era. Reflection on the Mystical Body of Christ marked the first phase of the Church's interior re-discovery; it began with St Paul and led to placing in the foreground the presence of Christ and the dynamics of what is alive (in Him and us). Further research led to a fresh awareness. Above all, more than anyone else, the great French theologian Henri de Lubac in his magnificent and learned studies made it clear that in the beginning the term "corpus mysticum" referred to the Eucharist. For St Paul and the Fathers of the Church the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ was inseparably connected with the concept of the Eucharist in which the Lord is bodily present and which He gives us His Body as food. This is how a Eucharistic ecclesiology came into existence. What do we mean today by "Eucharistic ecclesiology"? I will attempt to answer this question with a brief mention of some fundamental points. The first point is that Jesus' Last Supper could be defined as the event that founded the Church. Jesus gave His followers this Liturgy of Death and Resurrection and at the same time He gave them the Feast of Life. In the Last Supper he repeats the covenant of Sinai—or rather what at Sinai was a simple sign or prototype, that becomes now a complete reality: the communion in blood and life between God and man. Clearly the Last Supper anticipates the Cross and the Resurrection and presupposes them, otherwise it would be an empty gesture. This is why the Fathers of the Church could use a beautiful image and say that the Church was born from the pierced side of the Lord, from which flowed blood and water. When I state that the Last Supper is the beginning of the Church, I am actually saying the same thing, from another point of view. This formula means that the Eucharist binds all men together, and not just with one another, but with Christ; in this way it makes them "Church". At the same time the formula describes the fundamental constitution of the Church: the Church exists in Eucharistic communities. The Church's Mass is her constitution, because the Church is, in essence, a Mass (sent out: "missa"), a service of God, and therefore a service of man and a service for the transformation of the world. The Mass is the Church's form, that means that through it she develops an entirely original relationship that exists nowhere else, a relationship of multiplicity and of unity. In each celebration of the Eucharist, the Lord is really present. He is risen and dies no more. He can no longer be divided into different parts. He always gives Himself completely and entirely. This is why the Council states: "This Church of Christ is truly present in all legitimate local communities of the faithful which, united with their pastors, are themselves called Churches in the New Testament. For in their locality these are the new People called by God, in the Holy Spirit and with great trust (cf. 1 Thes. 1,5).... In these communities, though frequently small and poor, or living in the diaspora, Christ is present, and in virtue of His power there is brought together one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" (Lumen Gentium, n. 26). This means that the ecclesiology of local Churches derives from the formulation of the Eucharistic ecclesiology. This is a typical feature of Vatican II that presents the internal and sacramental foundation of the doctrine of collegiality about which we will speak later.

For a correct understanding of the Council's teaching, we must first look more closely at what exactly it said. Vatican II was aware of the concerns of both Orthodox and Protestant theology and integrated them into a more ample Catholic understanding. In Orthodox theology the idea of Eucharistic ecclesiology was first expressed by exiled Russian theologians in opposition to the pretensions of Roman centralism. They affirmed that insofar as it possesses Christ entirely, every Eucharistic community is already, in se, the Church. Consequently, external unity with other communities is not a constitutive element of the Church. Therefore, they concluded that unity with Rome is not a constitutive element of the Church. Such a unity would be a beautiful thing since it would represent the fullness of Christ to the external world, but it is not essential since nothing would be added to the totality of Christ. The Protestant understanding of the Church was moving in the same direction. Luther could no longer recognize the Spirit of Christ in the universal Church; he directly took that Church to be an instrument of the anti-Christ. Nor could he see the Protestant State Churches of the Reformation as Churches in the proper sense of the word. They were only social, political entities necessary for specific purposes and dependent on political powers—nothing more. According to Luther the Church existed in the community. Only the assembly that listens to the Word of God in a specific place is the Church. He replaced the word "Church" with "community" (Gemeinde). Church became a negative concept.
If we go back now to the Council text certain nuances become evident. The text does not simply say, "The Church is entirely present in each community that celebrates the Eucharist", rather it states: "This Church of Christ is truly present in all legitimate local communities of the faithful which, united with their pastors, are themselves called Churches". Two elements here are of great importance: to be a Church the community must be "legitimate"; they are legitimate when they are "united with their pastors". What does this mean? In the first place, no one can make a Church by himself. A group cannot simply get together, read the New Testament and declare: "At present we are the Church because the Lord is present wherever two or three are gathered in His name". The element of "receiving" belongs essentially to the Church, just as faith comes from "hearing" and is not the result of one's decision or reflection. Faith is a converging with something I could neither imagine nor produce on my own; faith has to come to meet me. We call the structure of this encounter, a "Sacrament". It is part of the fundamental form of a sacrament that it be received and not self-administered. No one can baptize himself. No one can ordain himself. No one can forgive his own sins. Perfect repentance cannot remain something interior—of its essence it demands the form of encounter of the Sacrament. This too is a result of a sacrament's fundamental structure as an encounter [with Christ]. For this reason communion with oneself is not just an infraction of the external provisions of Canon Law, but it is an attack on the innermost nature of a sacrament. That a priest can administer this unique sacrament, and only this sacrament, to himself is part of the mysterium tremendum in which the Eucharist involves him. In the Eucharist, the priest acts "in persona Christi", in the person of Christ [the Head]; at the same time he represents Christ while remaining a sinner who lives completely by accepting Christ's Gift. One cannot make the Church but only receive her; one receives her from where she already is, where she is really present: the sacramental community of Christ's Body moving through history. It will help us to understand this difficult concept if we add something: "legitimate communities". Christ is everywhere whole. This is the first important formulation of the Council in union with our Orthodox brothers. At the same time Christ is everywhere only one, so I can possess the one Lord only in the unity that He is, in the unity of all those who are also His Body and who through the Eucharist must evermore become it. Therefore, the reciprocal unity of all those communities who celebrate the Eucharist is not something external added to Eucharistic ecclesiology, but rather its internal condition: in unity here is the One. This is why the Council recalls the proper responsibility of communities, but excludes any self-sufficiency. 

The Council develops an ecclesiology in which being Catholic, namely being in communion with believers in all places and in all times, is not simply an external element of an organizational form, it represents grace coming from within and is at the same time a visible sign of the grace of the Lord who alone can create unity by breaching countless boundaries.

III. The Church, as the People of God After the initial enthusiasm that greeted the discovery of the idea of the Body of Christ, scholars analyzed and gradually began to refine the concept and make corrections in two directions. We have already referred to the first of these corrections in the work of Henri de Lubac. He made concrete the idea of the Body of Christ by working out a Eucharistic ecclesiology and opened it in this way to concrete questions about the juridical ordering of the Church and the reciprocal relations between local Churches and the universal Church. The other form of correction began in Germany in the 1930's, where some theologians were critical of the fact that with the idea of the Mystical Body certain relationships were not clear between the visible and the invisible, law and grace, order and life. They therefore proposed the concept of "People of God", found above all in the Old Testament, as a broader description of the Church to which one could more easily apply sociological and juridical categories. While the Mystical Body of Christ would certainly remain an important "image", by itself it could not meet the request of theology to express things using "concepts". Initially this criticism of the idea of the Body of Christ was somewhat superficial. Further study of the Body of Christ uncovered its positive content; the concept of "People of God", along with the concept of the Body of Christ, entered the ecclesiology of the Council. One wondered if the image of the Mystical Body might be too narrow a starting point to define the many forms of belonging to the Church now found in the tangle of human history. If we use the image of a body to describe "belonging" we are limited only to the form of representation as "member". Either one is or one is not a member, there are no other possibilities. One can then ask if the image of the body was too restrictive, since there manifestly existed in reality intermediate degrees of belonging. The Constitution on the Church found it helpful for this purpose to use the concept of "the People of God". It could describe the relationship of non-Catholic Christians to the Church as being "in communion" and that of non-Christians as being "ordered" to the Church where in both cases one relies on the idea of the People of God (Lumen Gentium, nn. 15, 16). In one respect one can say that the Council introduced the concept of "the People of God" above all as an ecumenical bridge. It applies to another perspective as well: the rediscovery of the Church after the First World War that initially was a phenomenon common to both Catholics and Protestants. Certainly the liturgical movement was by no means limited to the Catholic Church. This shared character gave rise to reciprocal criticism. The idea of the Body of Christ was developed within the Catholic Church, when the Church was designated as "Christ who continues to live on earth" and so the Church was described as the incarnation of the Son that continues to the end of time. This idea provoked opposition among Protestants who saw in the teaching an intolerable identifying of the Church herself with Christ. According to Protestants the Church was in a way adoring herself and making herself infallible. Gradually, the idea struck Catholic thinkers who, even though they did not go that far, found that this understanding of the Church made her every declaration and ministerial act so definitive that it made any criticism appear to be an attack on Christ himself and simply forgot the human, at times far too human, element of the Church. The Christological distinction had to be clearly emphasized: the Church is not identical with Christ, but she stands before Him. She is a Church of sinners, ever in need of purification and renewal, ever needing to become Church. The idea of reform became a decisive element of the concept of the People of God, while it would be difficult to develop the idea of reform within the framework of the Body of Christ. There is a third factor that favoured the idea of the "People of God". In 1939 the Evangelical exegete, Ernst Käsemann gave his monograph on the Letter to the Hebrews the title, The Pilgrim People of God. In the framework of Council discussions, this title became right away a slogan because it made something become more clearly understood in the debates on the Constitution on the Church: the Church has not yet reached her goal. Her true and proper hope still lies ahead of her. The "eschatological" import of the concept of Church became clear. The phrase conveys the unity of salvation history which comprises both Israel and the Church in her pilgrim journey. The phrase expresses the historical nature of the pilgrim Church that will not be wholly herself until the paths of time have been traversed and have blossomed in the hands of God. It describes the unity of the People of God amid the variety, as in all peoples, of different ministries and services; yet above and beyond all distinctions, all are pilgrims in the one community of the pilgrim People of God. In broad outline, if one wants to sum up what elements relating to the concept "People of God" were important for the Council, one could say that the phrase "People of God" conveyed the historical nature of the Church, described the unity of God's history with man, the internal unity of God's people that also goes beyond the frontiers of sacramental states of life. It conveys the eschatological dynamic, the provisional and fragmentary nature of the Church ever in need of renewal; and finally, it expresses the ecumenical dimension, that is the variety of ways in which communion and ordering to the Church can and do exist, even beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church. However, commentators very soon completely handed the term "people" in the concept "People of God" to a general political interpretation. Among the proponents of liberation theology it was taken to mean "people" in the Marxist sense, in opposition to the ruling classes, or more generally, it was taken to refer to popular sovereignty at long last being applied to the Church. This led to large-scale debates on Church structures. On occasion the expression was understood in a peculiarly Western sense as "democratization" or more in the sense of the so-called Eastern "People's Republics". Gradually this "verbal fireworks" (N. Lohfink) died down either because the power games ended in exhaustion and gave way to the ordinary work of parish councils, or because solid theological research had irrefutably demonstrated the impossibility of politicizing a concept that had arisen in an entirely different context. Bochum Werner Berg provides an example of the meticulous exegesis that characterized this theological research when he affirmed: "in spite of the small number of passages that mention the 'People of God' (it is a rare expression in the Bible) one common element is immediately apparent: the expression 'People of God' describes the relationship with God, the connection with God, the link between God and those designated as the People of God, it is therefore a 'vertical relationship'. The expression does not lend itself easily to a description of the hierarchical structure of this community, especially if 'People of God' is used in "contrast" to the ministers…" If we begin with the biblical meaning of this expression it can no longer be easily understood as a cry of protest against the ministers: "We are the People of God".

Josef Meyer zu Schlochtern, the Professor of Fundamental Theology at Paderborn, concludes his discussion of the concept "People of God" with an observation on Vatican II's Constitution on the Church. The document concludes by "depicting the Trinitarian structure as the foundation of the final determination of the Church…". The discussion is brought back to the essential point: the Church does not exist for herself; rather, she is God's instrument to gather mankind in Himself and to prepare for that time when "God will be all in all" (I Cor 15,28). The very concept of God was left out of all the "fireworks" surrounding this expression, thus depriving the expression of its meaning. A Church which existed only for herself would be useless. People would realize this immediately. The crisis of the Church reflected in the expression "People of God" is a "crisis of God". It derives from our abandoning the essential. All that remains is a struggle for power. This sort of thing is already abundantly present in the world—there is no need for the Church to enter this arena.
IV. The Ecclesiology of Communion Around the time of the extraordinary Synod of 1985 which attempted to make an assessment of the 20 years since the Council there was a renewed effort to synthesize the Council's ecclesiology. The synthesis involved one basic concept: the ecclesiology of communion. I was very much pleased with this new focus in ecclesiology and I endeavoured, to the extent I was able, to help work it out. First of all one must admit that the word ''communio" did not occupy a central place in the Council. All the same if properly understood it can serve as a synthesis of the essential elements of the Council's ecclesiology. All the essential elements of the Christian concept of "communio" can be found in the famous passage from the First Letter of Saint John (1,3); it is a frame of reference for the correct Christian understanding of "communio". "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship (communio) with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete". The point of departure of communio is clearly evident in this passage: the union with the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who comes to mankind through the proclamation of the Church. Fellowship (communio) among men is born here and merges into fellowship (communio) with the One and Triune God. One gains access to communion with God through the realization of God's communion with man—it is Christ in person. To meet Christ creates communion with Him and therefore with the Father in the Holy Spirit. This unites men with one another. The goal of all this is the fullness of joy: the Church carries in her bosom an eschatological dynamic. This expression "fullness of joy" recalls the farewell address of Jesus, His Paschal mystery and the Lord's return in the Easter apparitions which prefigure His definitive return in the new world. "You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy ... I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice ... ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (Jn 16, 20.22.24). If this verse is compared to the invitation to prayer in St Luke (Lk 11,13) it is apparent that "joy" and the "Holy Spirit" are equivalent. Although John does not explicitly mention the Holy Spirit in his first Epistle (1,3) he is hidden within the word "joy". In this biblical context the word "communio" has a theological, Christological, soteriological and ecclesiological characteristic. It enjoys a sacramental dimension that is absolutely explicit in St Paul: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body ... " (I Cor 10,16ff.). The ecclesiology of communion at its very foundation is a Eucharistic ecclesiology. It is very close to that Eucharistic ecclesiology that Orthodox theologians so convincingly developed during the past century. In it—as we have already seen—ecclesiology becomes more concrete while remaining totally spiritual, transcendent and eschatological. In the Eucharist, Christ, present in the bread and wine and giving Himself anew, builds the Church as His Body and through His Risen Body He unites us to the one and triune God and to each other. The Eucharist celebrated in different places is universal at the same time, because there is only one Christ and only a single body of Christ. The Eucharist comprehends the priestly service of "repraesentatio Christi" as well as that network of service, the synthesis of unity and multiplicity which is expressed in the term "communio". Without any possible doubt one could say that this concept conveys a synthesis of ecclesiology which combines the discourse of the Church with the discourse of God, and to life through God and with God. This synthesis assembles all the essential intentions of Vatican II ecclesiology and connects them with one another in an appropriate fashion. For these reasons I was both grateful and happy when the 1985 Synod placed "communio" at the centre of their study. The following years demonstrated the fact that no word is safe from misunderstanding, not even the best and most profound word. To the extent that "communio" became an easy slogan, it was devalued and distorted. As happened to the concept 'People of God', one must point to a growing horizontal understanding that abandoned the concept of God. The ecclesiology of communion was reduced to a consideration of relations between the local Church and the universal Church; this in turn was reduced to the problem of determining the area of competence of each. Naturally the egalitarian thesis once more gained ground: only full equality was possible in "communio". Here again was the exact same argument that had exercised the disciples about who was the greatest amongst them. Obviously this was something that would not be resolved within a single generation. Mark's description of the incident is the most forceful. On the road from Jerusalem Jesus spoke to His Disciples about His coming Passion for the third time. When they arrived at Capernaum He asked them what they had been talking about on the road. "They were silent" because they had been discussing who among them would be the greatest—a sort of discussion about the primacy (Mk 9, 33-37). Isn't it just the same today? The Lord is going towards His Passion, while the Church, and in her Christ, is suffering and, we on the other hand are entangled in our favorite discussion: who comes first with the power. If He were to come among us and ask what we were talking about we would blush and be silent. This does not mean that there should be no discussion of good government and the division of responsibility in the Church. It is certainly true that there are imbalances that need correcting. We should watch for and root out an excessive Roman centralization that is always a danger. But questions of this sort ought not to distract us from the true mission of the Church: the Church should not be proclaiming herself but God. It is only to assure that this is done in the purest possible way, that there is criticism within the Church. Criticism should insure a correlation between discourse on God and common service. To sum it up, it is no accident that Jesus' words "the first shall be last and the last first" occur more than once in the Gospel tradition. They are like a mirror constantly focused on us all. Faced with the post-1985 reduction of the concept of "communio", the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith thought it appropriate to prepare a "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion". The Letter was issued on 28 May, 1992. Today, any theologian concerned about his reputation feels obliged to criticize all documents from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Our Letter met with a storm of criticism—very few parts of the text met with approval. The phrase that provoked the most controversy was this statement: "The universal Church in her essential mystery is a reality that ontologically and temporally is prior to every particular Church" (cf. n. 9). There was a brief reference to this statement being based on the Patristic notion that the one, unique Church precedes the creation of particular Churches and gives birth to them. The Fathers were reviving a rabbinical concept that the Torah and Israel were pre-existent. Creation was conceived as providing space for the Will of God. This Will needed a people who would live for the Will of God and would make it the Light of the world. Since the Fathers were convinced of the final identity of the Church and Israel, they could not envision the Church as something accidental, only recently created; in this gathering of people under the Will of God the Fathers recognized the internal theology of creation. Beginning with Christology this image was amplified and deepened: they explained history—under the influence of the Old Testament—as a story of love between God and man. God finds and prepares a Bride for His Son—the unique Bride who is the unique Church. In the light of Genesis 2,24, where man and woman become "two in one flesh" the image of the Bride merges with the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ—an analogy derived from the Eucharistic liturgy. The unique Body of Christ is prepared; Christ and the Church will be "two in one flesh", one body and in this way "God will be everything to everyone". The ontological priority of the universal Church—the unique Church, the unique Body, the unique Bride—vis-à-vis the empirical, concrete manifestations of various, particular Churches is so obvious to me that I find it difficult to understand the objections raised against it. These objections only seem possible if one will not or cannot recognize the great Church conceived by God—possibly out of despair at her earthly shortcomings. These objections look like theological ravings. All that would remain is the empirical image of mutually related Churches and their conflicts. This would mean that the Church as a theological theme is cancelled. If one can only see the Church as a human institution, all that remains is desolation. In this case one has abandoned not only the ecclesiology of the Fathers, but the ecclesiology of the New Testament and the understanding of Israel in the Old Testament as well. It is not just the later deutero-Pauline letters and the Apocalypse that affirm the ontological priority of the universal Church to the particular Churches (reaffirmed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith). This concept can be found in the great Pauline letters: in the Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle speaks about the heavenly Jerusalem not as something great and eschatological, but as something which precedes us: "This Jerusalem is our mother" (Gal 4,26). H. Schlier comments that for St Paul, inspired by Jewish tradition, the Jerusalem above is the new aeon. For St Paul this new aeon already exists "in the Christian Church. For him the Church is the heavenly Jerusalem in her children". Let me conclude. To understand the ecclesiology of Vatican II one cannot ignore chapters 4 to 7 of the Constitution Lumen Gentium. These chapters discuss the laity, the universal call to holiness, the religious and the eschatological orientation of the Church. In these chapters the inner goal of the Church, the most essential part of its being, comes once again to the fore: holiness, conformity to God. There must exist in the world space for God, where he can dwell freely so that the world becomes His "Kingdom". Holiness is something greater than a moral quality. It is the presence of God with men, of men with God; it is God's "tent" pitched amongst men in our midst (cf. Jn 1,14). It is a new birth—not from flesh and blood but from God (Jn 1,13). Orientation towards holiness is one and the same as eschatological orientation. Beginning with Jesus' message it is fundamental for the Church. The Church exists to become God's dwelling place in the world, to become "holiness". This is the only reason there should be any struggle in the Church—and not for precedence or for the first place.

All of this is repeated and synthesized in the last chapter of the Constitution on the Church that is dedicated to the Mother of the Lord. As everyone knows, the question of dedicating a specific document to Mary was widely debated. In any event I believe it was appropriate to insert the Marian element directly into the doctrine on the Church. In this way the point of departure for our consideration is once more apparent: the Church is not an apparatus, nor a social institution, nor one social institution among many others. It is a person. It is a woman. It is a Mother. It is alive. A Marian understanding of the Church is totally opposed to the concept of the Church as a bureaucracy or a simple organization. We cannot make the Church, we must be the Church. We are the Church, the Church is in us only to the extent that our faith more than action forges our being. Only by being Marian, can we become the Church. At its very beginning the Church was not made, but given birth. She existed in the soul of Mary from the moment she uttered her fiat. This is the most profound will of the Council: the Church should be awakened in our souls. Mary shows us the way.

________________________________________ Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 23 January 2002, page 5 L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See. The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by: The Cathedral Foundation L'Osservatore Romano English Edition 320 Cathedral St. Baltimore, MD 21201 Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315 Fax: (410) 332-1069 lormail@catholicreview.org

Monday 30 November 2009

Belmont Abbey 150th Anniversary

            On 21st November the Belmont Community began a year’s celebration to mark the 150th anniversary of its founding. Various events are being planned so that all connected with the Abbey, monks, oblates, parishioners, clergy, religious and friends, can take part. Some will be simple and homely, like the inaugural Mass last week, while others will be grand occasions with large numbers of guests.
            Belmont has a fascinating and unusual history. It was the brainchild of Francis Richard Wegg-Prosser of Belmont House, Clehonger, Herefordshire, who, to mark his conversion to the Catholic Church, decided to build a church. For this he engaged the services of Edward Pugin, but they were unable to build all that was planned. Only about a third of the project was completed.  On 21st November 1859 the first stage was officially opened and given to the English Benedictine Congregation. The church was blessed by the first Cathedral Prior, Dom Norbert Sweeney, and, on the following day, the first Mass was offered by Bishop Thomas Joseph Brown of Newport and Menevia, whose cathedral it now became. Later that day a Solemn High Mass was celebrated by Bishop Bernard Ullathorne.
            Belmont was unique in that it was a cathedral priory, just like the great medieval Benedictine houses at Canterbury, Rochester, Durham, Worcester and so on. It became the mother church of a fledgling diocese as well as a monastic church where the divine office was sung each day in full by Benedictine monks from Downside, Ampleforth and Douai. They formed the cathedral chapter and prepared both Benedictine and diocesan candidates for the priesthood. It also served as common novitiate and house of studies. An aspect of Belmont’s importance lies in the fact that countless Benedictine priests were trained here, priests who were to serve all over England and Wales in a period of consolidation and growth. Many parishes owe their origin to the English Benedictine Mission. The training they were given was of a very high standard, as was the monastic formation they received. Among the professors was Dom Cuthbert Hedley, successor to Bishop Brown.
Belmont was pivotal to the movement for monastic reform that was gathering momentum in the second half of the 19th Century. It is interesting to note that Abbot Prosper Guéranger of Solesmes preached at the dedication of the church on 4th September 1860. Belmont was instrumental to the reintroduction of Gregorian Chant to Britain and for 60 years was the only cathedral in the world where the Chant was sung every day at Mass and Divine Office. Also of note is the fact that many “Belmont men”, such as Dom Bede Vaughan, took an important role in the Church’s mission to Australia.
            A new chapter in the life of the community began with independence, first as a Priory in 1915, then as an Abbey in 1920. Dom Aelred Kindersley, last of the Cathedral Priors, was elected first Abbot of Belmont. The community grew quickly, but was desperately poor, for although Belmont was a foundation of the English Congregation as a whole, it was never endowed or provided with a means of self support. Individual monks were loaned to the other houses to serve on their incorporated parishes. It was not until 1926 that a small school was opened, the founder not wishing Belmont to have a school, but to dedicate itself to the evangelization of Wales and Herefordshire. The first incorporated parishes were taken on in 1934. In addition to training its own men, Belmont also trained priests for the Archdiocese of Cardiff. Archbishop Michael McGrath continued the tradition of ordinations at Belmont well into the 1940s. There have always been and continue to be close relations between Belmont and the Archdiocese.
            Eventually the school at Belmont grew to around three hundred and there were two prep schools. They were well known for their high academic standards and for their sporting, artistic, musical and theatrical endeavours. Sadly economic difficulties led to their closure, but Belmont continues to be involved in education through its parish schools and through the successful education programme whereby schools from the West Midlands and Wales visit the abbey as part of their curriculum.
            One of our monks, Dom Aelred Cousins, helped found the Monastery of Christ the King at Tororo in Uganda, today a flourishing community. In 1981 Belmont made a foundation in Peru, originally near Tambogrande in the north and now at Pachacamac just south of Lima. The Monastery of the Incarnation continues to grow in spite of the many hardships and difficulties inherent in any monastic foundation. There are strong links between Belmont and Peru, where an extraordinary amount of pastoral, educational and social work has been undertaken and supported.
            Today the Community numbers about 45. There is an extensive retreat programme and excellent guest facilities at Hedley Lodge. Belmont has pastoral care of fourteen parishes and several chaplaincies. God continues to bless us with vocations. There are seven young monks in formation at Belmont and six in Peru. Recently, with the help of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we completed important repair work to the abbey church as well as building new facilities. We are also undertaking, with the help of benefactors, the renovation and improvement of the great organ in memory of Abbot Alan Rees. The Community invites you to join with us in giving thanks to God for his many blessings to Belmont over the past 150 years. May we continue to be faithful to his call and ever ready to do his will.


The Fast of St. Philip

November 15-December 25

All of us are familiar with the forty-day fast before we celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection of
our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (Pascha). This is called the Great Fast (Lent). However, in the Church
there are three other seasons of fasting, namely, the Apostles Fast (Before the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul); the Dormition of Our Lady or Spasa Fast (August 1-15); and the Fast of St. Philip before the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord

The Fast of St. Philip or the Nativity Fast is comparable to the Advent season in the Western
Church. Advent means “coming.” In the Western Church, the faithful await the coming of Jesus at
Christmas. We, on the other hand, call this preparatory period before Christmas the Fast of St. Philip or the
Nativity Fast rather than Advent since we realize that Jesus is already with us. “Lo, I am with you always
until the end of time.” We prepare for His Birth by making ourselves aware of His presence rather than
waiting for Him to come.

History of the Fast

Before we can consider the history of the Fast, we must remember that the Feast of the Nativity of
our Lord (Christmas) is not as ancient as the Feast of Pascha. The early Church celebrated both Christ’s
Birth and His Baptism (the Incarnation and Theophany) as a single feast on January 6. The celebration of Christmas being separated from His Baptism cannot be ascertained before the middle of the fourth century. We know that the feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior was first celebrated separately from the feast of the Theophany on December 25, 336 in Rome and that St. Gregory Nazianzus introduced this separate feast in Constantinople sometime between 379-388

We also know that when St. Gregory left Constantinople, the celebration of Christ’s birth as a
separate feast was neglected and it was not reinstated until 395 by Emperor Honorius. Through the sermons
of St. John Chrysostom, we can ascertain that he introduced this separate feast in the Church in Antioch
around 380 and this was done in imitation of the Church in Rome.

Eventually, the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord began to be celebrated universally in the Church
on December 25 and the feast of the Theophany on January 6.

With the introduction of this feast, there was already a mention of the need for a preparatory
period before celebrating Christmas at the Council of Saragossa in 380. The Church fathers stated that
every Christian should go to Church daily from December 17 until the Feast of the Theophany on January
6. In 581, the Synod of Mac in present day France decreed that the fast should begin on November 11 (the
Feast of St. Martin of Tours in the Western Church) and last until December 24 and that every Christian
should fast three times a week, namely, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They called this preparatory
season the Fast of St. Martin. Even in the twelfth century the famous Byzantine canonist Balsamon
expressed the opinion that it would be enough for the Christian to fast only one week before Christmas.
Scholars also do not agree about the exact time when the preparatory period was developed in the
Eastern Churches. Some claim it was as early as the sixth century, others believe it was developed in the
seventh or eighth century. Even then, it was not until 1166, at the Council of Constantinople, that it was
decreed that there would be a fast of forty days, beginning on November 15 and lasting until the Divine
Liturgy on Christmas Day. Through this fast, called the Fast of St. Philip (since it begins the day after the
Feast of St. Philip) the Church would be properly prepared for a worthy celebration of the Birth of Christ.

The Ancient Fast

The regulations for the Fast of St. Philip, probably formulated by the monastics, were based on the
Great Fast (Lent) before Pascha but were not as strict: no meat was to be eaten during this fast; Mondays,
Wednesdays and Fridays were days of strict fast; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, one was allowed olive oil
and wine (alcoholic beverages), but no fish. If a feast, a prefestive or a postfestive day fell on a Monday,
Tuesday or Thursday, fish was allowed, but if the feast fell on a Wednesday or Friday, only olive oil and
wine were allowed. On weekends and certain great feasts, fish, oil and wine were allowed. However,
during the Prefestive period of Christmas (December 20-24), no fish was allowed and Christmas Eve was always a day of strict fast. If November 15 fell on a Saturday, the fast began the preceding day (November 14) and if it fell on a Sunday, the Fast began on Monday in honor of St. John Chrysostom.

The Fast began with the celebration of Vespers on November 14 in the evening and was similar to
Vespers beginning the Great Fast. Great Prostrations were made during the service and the Prayer of St.
Ephraim was recited. At Matins on the first day of the fast, as well as on all weekdays not having a feast,
Alleluia was sung in place of “God is the Lord.” At the recitation of the Hours, the Penitential Hymns were
taken in place of the regular troparia and kontakia. Great Prostrations were made at all the services on
weekdays. The Divine Liturgy was not to be celebrated on the first day of the fast or on any of the
“Alleluia” days. The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is only celebrated during the Great Fast (Lent).
Disagreements arose regarding the fasting regulations at the very onset.

Some said that they were monastic rules and that they should not bind the faithful. The bishops tended to agree. They decreed that the regulations were the ideal and that the faithful, if they so desired, we are allowed to eat fish throughout the entire fast but meat was still forbidden. They stated that the regulations applied only to the priests and monks. Later, it was then stated that these fasting regulations applied only to monks. Apart from the first day of the fast and on the Friday before Christmas if the feast fell on a Saturday or Sunday, the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on weekdays was also allowed in parish
churches except in the Cathedral parish and in monasteries.

The Fast Today

We have seen in the history of this Fast how over the centuries our observance of the Fast of St.
Philip has changed. Today it is still a penitential season similar to Lent, but in practice, its observance has
gradually almost fallen away completely.

Every year Bishop Robert writes a letter to the faithful about the Fast of St. Philip. How can we
today observe this Fast? First it must be said that today there are no particular penitential acts required by
law. By tradition, the first day of the Fast, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are observed by abstinence
from certain foods. Christmas Eve is still a day of strict fast except if it falls on a Saturday or Sunday.
Therefore, in order to prepare ourselves for Christ’s Birth, Baptism and the beginning of His
public ministry, a spirit of the fast is recommended. On one or more of the traditional days of fasting why
not try to abstain from foods that you find extremely pleasing to taste or from excessive eating? Why not
set aside meat or dessert on these days? Look at the Fast of St. Philip as an invitation to humble ourselves
in some small way in imitation of Christ who “made Himself poor though He was rich, so that you might
become rich by His poverty” (1 Corinthians 8:9).

St. Paul also reminds us that “the Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and
peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Thus, our preparation during the Fast of St. Philip is
more than just abstinence. Make more time for prayer and acts of charity. Visit the sick, do acts of kindness
towards your neighbors, help those who are in need of your assistance, make more time for your family.
The possibilities are endless.

As St. John Chrysostom said:
Let the hands fast, by being free from avarice.
Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin.
Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful.
Let the ears fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip.
Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism.
For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers?

Rev. Msgr. Thomas A. Sayuk

Tuesday 24 November 2009

ambrose young of "Irenikon" on the martyrs of compeigne

[Irenikon] From Vidal's website: the Martyrs of Compiegne are very inspiring


ambrose young

 to Irenikon
show details 11:14 (1 hour ago)

Gertrud von le Fort and the Martyrs of Compiègne

I have long been an admirer of Gertrud von le Fort and her novel Song at the Scaffold, about the Blessed Martyrs of Compiègne. Baroness von le Fort's short but powerful depiction of the sixteen Carmelite nuns guillotined in 1795 during the Reign of Terror was the inspiration for the play by Bernanos and the opera by Poulenc, Dialogues des Carmelites. To Quell the Terror by William Bush is an excellent historical treatise on the martyrdom of the Carmelites. It is not widely known that Queen Marie-Antoinette provided a dowry for a poor, pious girl named Mademoiselle Lidoine, so that she could enter the Carmel of Compiègne. Mademoiselle Lidoine became the Mother Prioress of the heroic Martyrs of Compiègne, who like Marie-Antoinette, died on the guillotine during the French Revolution.
There is more HERE from The Inn At The End of the World.
HERE is the final scene from Poulenc's opera.

Here is a short account of Gertrud von le Fort's life:

Baroness Gertrude von Lefort (1876–1971) is the author of over 20 books (poems, novels and short stories), honorary Doctor of Theology and «the greatest contemporary transcendent poet». Her works are appreciated for their breath-taking profoundness and virtuosity, beauty and actuality of her ideas, and for the sophisticateGertrud von le Fortd refinement of the form. Hermann Hesse, who evaluated her talent, proposed her as a candidate for the Nobel Prize.
Von le Fort was born in Westphalia, Germany, and studied at the Universities of Heidelberg and Berlin. A Protestant of Huguenot descent, von le Fort converted early to Catholicism.

Her novel Die Letze am Schafott (The Last or Song at the Scaffold), by far her most famous work, was the basis for Dialogues of the Carmelites. Set during the time........... of the French Revolution, the von le Fort novel tells the story of a troubled, frightened, and strange girl, Blanche de la Force, who has lived in fear from the moment of her birth. To overcome her affliction, she decides to become a nun of Carmel. Little does she know that she is no safer from fear at this convent than in the secular world.
The character of Blanche was von le Fort’s creation, but the other nuns in the story historical figures. Notice the similarity of "von le Fort" to "de la Force." This was no coincidence: much of Gertrud von le Fort’s inspiration for her novel came from her own experiences during World War II and her hatred of Nazism.
She recorded the origin of her 1931 novel: " The point of departure for my creation was not primarily the destiny of the sixteen Carmelites of Compiègne but the figure of the young Blanche. In a historic sense she never lived, but she received the breath of life from my internal spirit, and she cannot be detached from the origin, which is hers. Born in the profound horror of a time darkened by the signs of destiny, this figure arose before me in some way as the embodiment of the mortal agony of an era going totally to its ruin."

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Russian Monasticism after Communism

Russian Monasticism After Communism
Interview With Orthodox Monk on Old and New Challenges
By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, NOV. 5, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Having survived Soviet Communism, Russian Orthodox monasticism now faces the new threat of secularization as it passes through a period of testing that only time can heal.

Father Petr Mescerinov expressed these ideas as he discussed with ZENIT the new and enduring challenges of Russian monasticism. The hegumen (a title similar to abbot) of the St. Daniil Monastery of Moscow was in Italy for a conference on Eastern and Western monasticism.

Father Mescerinov is vice-director of the Center for the Spiritual Formation of Children and Adolescents of the Moscow Patriarchate.

ZENIT: How important is contemplation and action in Eastern monasticism?

Father Mescerinov: I can speak of Russian monasticism. Already from ancient times, by tradition, we have two different monastic ways connected to two Russian saints: St. Nil of Sora and St. Joseph of Volokolamsk. They were contemporaries and argued vehemently, even among themselves.

Those were very profound diatribes, rather complex disputes, and I could summarize thus, briefly, the currents that the two saints advocated: Nil of Sora defended the contemplative dimension, whereas Joseph of Volokolamsk defended the active dimension.

It cannot be said that these two aspects are in contradiction to one another, because in regard to the contemplative dimension, we see its influence also in Russian cultural life, in literature, in the rediscovery of the Church Fathers. On the other hand, if we take St. Joseph Volokolamsk's more active current, more involved with the social [realm], we can observe that with his action he did not intend to replace the state, but remained firm in his adherence to his own contemplative roots.

To conclude, we can say that there is no real contradiction between the two dimensions.

Already St. Macarius the Great said that each monk has his specific vocation, his specific activity; therefore, those who contemplate should not judge those who serve and vice versa, those who serve should not judge those given to the contemplative life, because they are profoundly linked with one another and together constitute the true Christian monastic community.

ZENIT: Who are the martyrs of Russian monasticism? How many are there?

Father Mescerinov: In regard to Russian monasticism, we can speak above all of the new martyrs of the 20th century. Many have been canonized and many others are yet to be canonized, but the massive closure of monasteries in the Soviet age attests that the monks gave their life to defend the monastic ideal.

ZENIT: In face of the rapid and uncontrolled race of modernity, how are Russian monastic communities reacting?

Father Mescerinov: The monastic communities are reacting in two different ways. To answer this question it is necessary to keep in mind that the Russian monastic tradition was violently interrupted during the Soviet period, and because of this, Russian monasticism today is in fact looking for an answer to this question.

For the time being, no answer has been found, so there are two variants: either a radical separation and self-exclusion from the world, which is not the healthy "leaving the world," which was understood in the past when thinking of monasticism, but a maniacal way to protect oneself from the aggression of the world. [And] the second variant is linked to secularization, declaring oneself exteriorly to be a monk, but in reality one is inserted in the course of the secular life of everyone.

This moment of testing has not yet found an answer in the life of the Church. In my personal opinion, I think the community must certainly protect itself from certain phenomena of the modern world, but this protection must happen in a sober, appropriate, healthy and ecclesial way, and not in an asocial way.

ZENIT: What is the reality of these communities today?

Father Mescerinov: The principal tragedy of our ecclesial life today is the absolute lack of community. There are communities that are born in contrast to the position of the Church in a general sense; however, there are no communities as such as a norm of community life.

This is linked no doubt to the Soviet legacy, because in that period every aggregation was regarded with suspicion and in danger of being repressed; in fact, an anti-solidary instinct has been created in the very conscience of many generations of persons.

When people enter the Church today, educated according to this mentality, it is very difficult [for them] to feel and even to understand that it is a Christian community, because any form of aggregation suffers the influence of Soviet collectivism, whereas the Christian community and Soviet collectivism are two things that have nothing to do with one another.

Because of this, Russians today do not have a predisposition to community life, and this is also reflected in monastic life. We do not have true communities and our own monastic communities; we have formally organized monasteries, there are some monks, some individuals alone with a straight and sincere vocation, but they are not able to insert themselves well in the community.

This is no doubt a task for the future, or perhaps our ecclesial and social life has arrived at a point of no return in which it is practically impossible to return to genuine solidarity. But the future will show this.

Thursday 5 November 2009

Authentically Catholic Art

(please click the title)

ambrose young to Irenikon
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"Most Holy Father, in This Era of Irrational Barbarism..."

An appeal to Benedict XVI "for the return to an authentically Catholic sacred art." The main signatory is the great German writer Martin Mosebach. And in the meantime, the meeting between the pope and artists in the Sistine Chapel is drawing near

by Sandro Magister

ROME, November 5, 2009 – A few days before the meeting announced for November 21 between the pope and artists in the Sistine Chapel, an appeal anticipating its principal motivation has already come to Benedict XVI's desk.

The appeal is "for the return to an authentically Catholic sacred art," and was signed not by artists, but by scholars and other figures who are passionately concerned, for various reasons, about the fate of Christian art. Two names stand out above all: Martin Mosebach, and Enrico Maria Radaelli.

Mosebach is an established German writer whom Joseph Ratzinger knows well. His latest book: "The heresy of the shapeless. The Roman liturgy and its enemy" was published this year, including an Italian edition by Cantagalli. And it is a stunning apologia on behalf of great Christian art, and more than that, of the Catholic liturgy itself as art. With biting invective against the iconoclasm that reigns today within the Catholic Church itself.

Radaelli, a disciple of the great Catholic philosopher and philologist Romano Amerio, is a sophisticated scholar of theological aesthetics. His masterpiece is: "Ingresso alla bellezza [Entryway to beauty]," released in 2008, a magnificent introduction into the mystery of God through his "Imago," which is Christ. Beauty as the manifestation of the truth.

The appeal was born from seminars held in recent months in the library of the pontifical commission for the cultural heritage of the Church, hosted by the vice-president of this Vatican commission, Benedictine abbot Michael J. Zielinski. Active participants in the meetings included Fr. Nicola Bux and Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, consultants for the office of papal liturgical celebrations. Fr. Lang is also an official at the congregation for divine worship. But no clergyman figures among the promoters of the appeal, not to mention any Vatican official. The signatories are laymen, of various competencies and professions.

After a brief introduction, the test unfolds in seven small chapters dedicated to the causes of the current fracture between the Church and art, to theological references, to the commission, to the artists, to the sacred space, to sacred music, to the liturgy.

And it ends with the appeal itself, which is formulated in this way:

"For all the reasons set out above, we are eager to receive from Your Holiness a fatherly listening and the merciful attention of the Vicar of Christ. We beseech you, Holy Father, to read in our heartfelt appeal our most pressing concern for the appalling conditions of contemporary sacred art and sacred architecture, as well as a modest and most humble request for your help so that sacred art and architecture can once again be truly Catholic. This so that the faithful can again enjoy the sense of wonder and rejoice once again at the presence of the beauty in God's House. This so that the Church can be once more regain her rightful place, in this era of irrational, mundane and malforming barbarism, as a true and attentive promoter and custodian of an art that is both new and truly "original": an art that today as always flowers in every age of progress, which reflowers from its ancient roots and eternal origin, faithful to the most intimate sense of Beauty that shines in the Truth of Christ."

The complete text with the list of signatories can be read, in multiple languages, on the website created for this purpose:

> Appeal to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for an authentically Catholic sacred art

The following is a sample chapter:


Holy Father, the Church has today the opportunity to regain his "highly" role in the magisterium of music, mainly in the field of sacred music and liturgical chant, which must necessarily respond to the categories of "good" and "right" for their intimate connection, not just correspondence, with the liturgy itself (Paul VI, Address to the singers of the papal chapel, March 12th, 1964).

In the ancient history of Christianity the dialectical relationship between sacred music and secular music has produced many times the intervention of the Church to "clean up the building of the Roman liturgy" (a term explicitly used by many popes) from the secularist intrusions that the music itself lead in the temple and that, over the centuries and the gradual technical and musical development, have become increasingly severe and spill-over from the proper liturgical use, ending often in the assumption of roles of self-referencing or profane nature.

From the time of the Const. Ap. “Docta Sanctorum” issued by Pope John XXII (1324), the magisterium has always indicated the righteous ways of understanding music in the service of worship, gradually adopting new techniques compatible with the liturgy, but always and consistently pointing up to the present day (including the magisterium of Vatican II and the entire post Vatican II period) in the Gregorian chant, the primal root, the source of constant inspiration, the highest – because it’s simply the most noble – form of music that can perfectly embody the Catholic liturgical ideal also by virtue of its anonymity and its meta-historical true aesthetical, verbal and sensitive universality.

We cannot now definitely establish musical forms and styles a priori, but the
recovery of Gregorian chant, good polyphonic and organ music (even inspired by the Gregorian), – ancient, modern and contemporary – would certainly, after decades of absolute shock and “probability” in music, recall the liturgical "words" that the Catholic tradition in art and music has given us for centuries: they have worked – using a representative expression of Pope Paul VI in the Enc. "Mysterium Fidei" – as real "tiles of the Catholic Faith", which was always founded on sensible data, endowed with truth and beauty; and always devoid of sterile and mannered or archaeological intellectualism, to be avoided with care (as indicated by Pope Pius XII in Enc. “Mediator Dei” that introduced the liturgical reform of the late twentieth century.

Maybe in the arts devoted to the service of worship, music is the strongest, for that constant "catechetical" meaning which the magisterium has constantly recognized, and also the more delicate because, by its nature and unlike the other arts, requires a tertium medium between the author and the viewer, or the interpreter. For this reason the Catholic Church should take better care of the music than of other arts and should, as happened in the past, urge the education of both authors and interpreters: for sure today the effort is much more difficult than in Middle Age, Baroque period or in the XIX century, since the actual society is completely secularized. However today is needed a clear knowledge of the fundamentals so that the musicians – once endowed with the needed expertise – can recover the "sensus ecclesiæ" together with the "sensus fidei".


And about the meeting between the pope and artists...

The announced meeting between Benedict XVI and artists will take place the morning of Saturday, November 21, 2009, in the Sistine Chapel.

The program of the meeting will be as follows. After a musical prelude, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the pontifical council for culture, will extend a greeting to those present in the name of the pope. Then a few passages will be read from the “Letter to Artists” by John Paul II, from April 4, 1999. Finally, pope Joseph Ratzinger will give his address. A second musical performance will close the meeting.

The Sistine Chapel is modest in size, so there will be at most five hundred artists present, from all over the world and from all disciplines: painters and sculptors, architects, writers and poets, musicians and singers, men of the cinema, the theater, dance, photography. The invitations were arranged by the pontifical council for culture.

In addition to the letter from John Paul II in 1999, another important precedent comes from forty-five years ago. It is the meeting between Paul VI and artists on May 7, 1964, which also took place in the Sistine Chapel.

The motivation for the new meeting is that “for some time the alliance between the Christian faith and the arts has been broken.” This is how Archbishop Ravasi spoke in announcing the event last September 10.

The alliance between faith and art is inseparable from the Church’s identity. Judaism prohibited sacred images. But faith in the incarnate God quickly prompted the Church to take Greek and Roman art as its own figurative language.

This genial marriage between the Church and art has periodically met with iconoclastic opposition. In the first millennium in the East, and in the second millennium in the West, first with Protestantism and today with the general anti-figurative tendency, not only in art but also in ecclesiastical patronage.

By meeting with artists in that supreme place of Christian art which is the Sistine Chapel, Benedict XVI intends precisely to arrest that decline and restart a dialogue, in the hope that a fruitful alliance between art and the Church may reemerge.

At a time when “in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel,” pope Ratzinger may be thinking of what Saint John Damascene said in the thick of the iconoclast storm:

“If a pagan comes and says to you, “Show me your faith!”, bring him to church and show him the decoration with which it is adorned, and explain to him the series of sacred paintings.”


The twofold official presentation of the meeting on November 21 between Benedict XVI and artists, made in two installments by Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the pontifical council for culture, and by Professor Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums:

Great Roman Polyphony Returns to Saint Peter's

Not in a concert, but in a Mass. It will be conducted by Domenico Bartolucci, the most brilliant interpreter of Palestrina's music alive today. He was removed as head of the Sistine Chapel choir twelve years ago, but now, with Pope Benedict, has finally been rehabilitated

by Sandro Magister

ROME, November 16, 2009 – Among the arts to be represented in the Sistine Chapel next Saturday, November 21, at the highly anticipated meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, music is perhaps the one that has suffered the most from the divorce that has taken place between artists and the Church.

The distress in music has been the first to afflict the Church. Because while the masterpieces of Christian painting, sculpture, and architecture still remain accessible to all, even if they are ignored and misunderstood, great music literally disappears from the churches if no one performs it anymore.

And one can effectively speak of an almost generalized disappearance when it comes to those treasures of Latin liturgical music that are Gregorian chant, polyphony, the organ.

Fortunately, however, during the same days when pope Joseph Ratzinger will be seeking to reestablish a fruitful relationship with art, the organ and great polyphonic music will return to give the best of themselves in the basilicas of Rome.

They will again be heard not only in the form of a concert, but also in the living environment of liturgical action.

The culmination will be on Thursday, November 19, at the hour of evening when the setting sun blazes through the apse of Saint Peter's. That evening, making his solemn return to the basilica to conduct a sung Mass, will be the greatest living interpreter of the Roman school of polyphony, the one that has come down from Giovanni Pierluigi of Palestrina – whom Giuseppe Verdi called the "everlasting father" of Western music – to our own day.

This interpreter of undisputed greatness is Domenico Bartolucci, for decades the "permanent maestro" of the Sistine Chapel choir, the pope's choir, and now, at age 93, still a miraculously adept director of Palestrina.

Bartolucci is a living witness of the elimination of liturgical music from the West, but also of its possible rebirth. The last time he conducted a complete Mass by Palestrina at Saint Peter's was all the way back in 1963. The last time he conducted the Sistine Chapel choir was in 1997. That year he was brutally dismissed, and without him the choir fell into a sorry state.

But now comes its return – powerfully symbolic – to the basilica built over the tomb of the prince of the apostles.

At the Mass on November 19 at Saint Peter's, Bartolucci will not conduct Palestrina, but his own polyphonic compositions, in alternation with Gregorian chants from the Mass "De Angelis." And with that, he will show how it is possible to cherish the best of the Latin musical tradition even within the canons of the modern post-conciliar liturgy: just what Pope Benedict wants, as a profound theologian of the liturgy and a music connoisseur. Naturally, Bartolucci's secret dream is to return at last to conduct the emblematic "Pope Marcellus Mass" by Palestrina, as a Mass celebrated by Benedict XVI at Saint Peter's.

The anticipation that these signs will soon be followed by a change of the conductor of the Sistine Chapel choir will become more impatient from this point forward.


The context within which Bartolucci will return to conduct a Mass at Saint Peter's is that of the International Festival of Sacred Music and Art, which is held each fall in the basilicas of Rome, and is marking its eighth edition this year.

The program this year has two focal points: Roman polyphony, and organ music.

The inauguration will be on Wednesday, November 18, in the basilica of Saint John Lateran, with a concert in the spirit of Palestrina, conducted by Bartolucci himself.

Another event in the spirit of the Roman school of polyphony, in a modern reinterpretation, will be the oratory "Paolo e Fruttuoso," composed and conducted by Valentino Miserachs Grau, conductor of the choir of the basilica of Saint Mary Major and head of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, the Vatican's "conservatory."

The second focal point will be the organ. The Fondazione Pro Musica e Arte Sacra has completed the restoration of the huge Tamburini organ of the Roman basilica of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Its inauguration will involve a series of four concerts performed by the organists who supervised the restoration – Goettsche, Paradell, and Piermarini – and by other world famous organ virtuosos like Leo Krämer and Johannes Skudlik.

The organ is the main instrument of liturgical music, which unforgivably has been overlooked despite the fact that it is present in countless churches. But non-liturgical music will also be included in the program, with works by Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert. On November 20, the octet of strings and woodwinds of the Wiener Philarmoniker will perform Schubert's sublime Octet in F Major in the basilica of Saint Mary Major.

The Wiener Philarmoniker is a constant presence at the Festival of Sacred Art and Music. Of all the major orchestras of the world, it is the one in which sacred and profane music are most closely intertwined.

For the next edition of the festival, the Wiener Philarmoniker has already agreed to perform Bruckner's ninth symphony and a selection from Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" in the Roman basilica of Saint Paul's Outside the Walls, on October 26, 2010.


The detailed program of the concerts at the basilicas of Rome:

> VIII International Festival of Sacred Music and Art, November 18-22, 2009


A newly published book with critical essays, interviews, and documents concerning Maestro Bartolucci:

"Domenico Bartolucci e la musica sacra del Novecento", a cura di Enzo Fagiolo, Armelin Musica, Padova, 2009, pp. 248, euro 29,00.

The three most recent CD's he has recorded (the third is about to be released), with a cappella music for choir by Palestrina, Victoria, Lasso, Morales, and Bartolucci himself:

> La polifonia della scuola romana, prima edizione

> La polifonia della scuola romana, seconda edizione

> La polifonia della scuola romana, terza edizione

It is instructive to reread the interview that Maestro Domenico Bartolucci gave to "L'espresso," no. 29, 2006.

> I Had a Dream: The Music of Palestrina and Gregory the Great Had Come Back (21.7.2006)


All the articles from www.chiesa on this topic:

> Focus on ART AND MUSIC


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.

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