Monday, May 16, 2011

Catholic Teachings on Ghosts

A look at the concept of ghosts from a Catholic perspective:


Introduction

The subject of ghosts and the paranormal is one that interested me as a kid, but as I grew older I began to doubt how well the entire subject fit within a traditional Catholic perspective. Common sense certainly seems to allow that some sort of paranormal entities could exist, and could interact with us (after all, for God all things are possible), however the Christian eschatological sense seems to introduce some doubt. We wonder what reasons God may have for allowing a deceased human soul to return to our world, or more troubling still, a damned soul. Such questions require first a strong faith in the teaching authority of the Church, and second an unshakable belief in God's goodness, even when we may not understand His actions.
I will begin by quoting a passage from Exorcism and the Church Militant by Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer. While I'm very troubled by the rumours I've heard regarding his conduct, his information is still solid and may be accepted regardless of his own difficulties.

Exorcism and the Church Militant
Pages 103-104:
"Most pagan societies believe in the separation of the soul from the body and an afterlife. This includes the idea that souls may "linger" after death due to "unfinished business" such as unbroken attachments to the earth, to unreconciled relationships or to the affairs of men that supposedly last beyond the grave. In this view, the souls can be benign or malicious; often pagan traditions of ancestor worship or appeasement of the dead are the result of these beliefs.
"The Roman Catholic belief is categorically different from these pagan beliefs, however. The theological tradition concerning souls in purgatory is based on the belief that bodily death constitutes a definitive entrance into an afterlife which is either a temporal purification followed by heaven, or an eternal damnation. Thus, for Catholics there is no such thing as a "lingering" or "wandering" soul who has "not cut the bonds of this earthly life." For Catholics, there is another way to explain these things than the standard pagan reasoning.
"A strong theological tradition recognizes that deceased human souls can and do visit the living after death for various reasons and in various modes. It is clear that this is only done "according to the disposition of Divine providence" and not as a common occurrence. St. Thomas Aquinas says that "separated souls sometimes come forth from their abode and appear to men...", and this can be both for "intimidation" (i.e., damned souls) or for "instruction" (i.e., redeemed souls). He also claims that souls may appear to others "in order to seek our suffrages" (i.e., souls in purgatory). Such apparitions can also be due to a special intervention into the human sphere by a demon creating a deception or an angel appearing in human form to communicate a message.
"Some people call these various apparitions "ghosts." In light of the tradition above, these can be either disembodied human souls or evil spirits. In Catholic thought, however, if such appearances happen, they are always limited and marked by truth, simplicity and utter clarity to distinguish a holy apparition from a demonic one, which is always marked by confusion, discord, chaos, fear and anxiety. Thus, there is no strictly theological basis for believing that there are souls "wandering" around in the world communicating with loved ones, or "haunting" places, but Catholics do believe that the deceased can appear after death in a strictly limited fashion and only with God's permission for some greater reason.
"What has been absolutely forbidden by the Church from the beginning is the attempt to conjure deceased souls from the grave or to communicate with the dead, a dark art known as necromancy. This prohibition is from Scripture. In the Christian tradition, we honor the dead and pray for them- we even consider ourselves in communion with them- but we do not conjure them up or attempt to dialogue with them. All such practices open us up to demonic deception and infestation."
Rev. Euteneuer goes on to speculate as to whether or not a damned human soul could possess a living person in the same way that a demonic entity is able to do, and I will revisit this later.
I think we can condense his answer into a few key points.

  1. Judgement after death is immediate.
  2. God can allow, for various reasons, a deceased human soul to interact with living beings.
  3. These scenarios should be considered irregular and rare.
  4. We are not to seek out deceased souls with satanic magic.

It will be useful from here, I believe, to glance at Church teaching on the immediacy of judgement after death.

Catechism of the Catholic Church
1021-1022
1021 Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. the parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul -a destiny which can be different for some and for others.
1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification or immediately,-or immediate and everlasting damnation.
 So we can conclude from these that if we living beings find ourselves interacting with a deceased human entity, this entity has already faced its judgement. Therefore it may be a damned soul, in which case it may seek to cause us grave harm, or it may be a saved soul. Of the souls of the saved, it may be undergoing purgation, in which case it is in need of our prayers, or it may be a member of the Church Triumphant, and therefore be able to intercede for us with the power of the saints.

We can conclude now that ghostly/paranormal activity is a possibility from a Catholic point of view, and it would be good to examine this activity in greater depth.


Hauntings

From my previous reading of anecdotal 'evidence' [read: ghost stories], I think we can safely divide paranormal activity into four main categories. These categories are:

  1. Good entities
  2. Evil entities
  3. Poltergeists
  4. Benign/neutral haunted houses
We will examine each in turn.

Good Entities:
I think we may conclude safely that these are the least problematic of any category of paranormal activity. These must be either souls in purgatory or in heaven, because a damned soul would be entirely unable to do good works. For a soul in purgatory, God may allow its temporary return in order to somehow right any damage it caused in its life. A soul undergoing purgation would also be especially inclined to ask for prayers. We can only speculate on particulars, and of course we must remember that it is not for us to understand the will of God. A hypothetical scenario which occurred to me is that of a father who became estranged from his son, and returned briefly after death to offer and receive healing and forgiveness. I recall Fr. Gabriele Amorth writing about a nun who was visited by a recently deceased member of the same order who begged for her prayers, and eventually her prayers led to the deceased nun's completion of purgation. However, I cannot find this story to reproduce it here in more detail, because I don't have the time to reread both his books.
A soul already experiencing the beatific vision may also be sent by God, in a similar manner to the angels, in order that it may intercede for us in some way. These actions would be directed somehow towards the benefits of we who are living, ultimately to inspire or strengthen our faith and resolve. We know that they have no need to complete any 'mission'. They cannot have 'unfinished business', because they have been perfected and are conformed to Christ. Maybe we can even consider the same father from our previous hypothetical who, having finished his purgation, returns to console his son during a crisis of faith later in life.

Evil Entities:
This category is also simple. We can quite safely say that if a deceased human entity intends harm for we who are living, then that soul must be damned. Souls in purgatory are unable to sin, and we need not even mention those in heaven. However, the souls of the damned live eternally in their sin; they know nothing but. Were a damned soul to temporarily visit the world of the living, we should conclude that it has been sent by Satan, but permitted by God, in the same way as demonic activity. We know also that these souls remain damned, as their judgement is final and eternal.
The extent of the influence of these damned souls may certainly be debated. It is, of course, exceedingly difficult for us, with our limited perspective, to distinguish between a damned human and a demon. This is simply because demons are wicked liars and would not hesitate to pose as a human if they perceived any benefit in doing so. Likewise it is reasonable that a damned soul might imitate a demon in hopes of intimidating a member of the living. Later in this post I will speculate further on this subject.

Poltergeists:
Poltergeist activity, along with so-called haunted houses are far more complex questions than simple good or evil entities. From stories we hear that poltergeists tend to be attached to a particular person, often an adolescent. These poltergeists tend to be mischievous, but mainly benign.
According to Fr. Herbert Thurston, SJ, (Ghosts and Poltergeists, page 2)
"A poltergeist is simply a racketing spirit, which in almost all cases remains invisible, but which manifests its presence by throwing things about, [...] in the course of which the human spectators are occasionally hit by flying objects, but as a rule suffer no serious injury."
He says further that particular aspects of the poltergeist are,
"the invisibility of the agents, the sporadic and temporary nature of the manifestations, and notably their dependence upon the presence of some particular individual- usually a young person and often a child- who must be assumed to possess strange, if unconscious, mediumistic powers."
Interestingly, Fr. Thurston seems to imply here that poltergeist activity is caused by "mediumistic" [psychic?] powers on the account of the central individual. Maybe in the case of poltergeists we are dealing with unconscious psychic powers of 'sensitive' individuals.
In fact, Fr. Amorth's treatment of the subject does not rule out this possibility. (An Exorcist, More Stories, page 160-161)
"Charismatics and Sensitives
"I mention both although we mistakenly tend to lump them together as one.

  • Charismatics have received a particular gift, or charism, from the Holy Spirit, which is to be used for the good of the entire Church, and not for their own personal benefit,
  • Sensitives, by nature, have higher levels of sensitivity (we often refer to a sixth sense) and are able to perceive things that cannot be detected by most individuals."
Certainly, therefore, we must admit that some individuals have particular gifts or attributes which are especially inclined towards the paranormal. I recall Fr. Amorth writing elsewhere about poltergeist activity, but again, I'm unable to track it down at the moment. His treatment of the phenomenon was, as I recall, more or less identical to the quote above from Fr. Thurston.
On the subject of Poltergeists, I will let the conclusions of Fr. Thurston speak in my place.
"Although, as the reader will infer, I am myself quite satisfied of the reality of many of these poltergeist phenomena, notable in such a case as that of the Ketkar household at Poona, I have no thought of contesting the fact that nothing more purposeless- one might say, nothing more childish- could be imagined than these incomprehensible displays of some Puck-like spook bent on every exasperation form of mischief. In the words of Alice in Wonderland, "he only does it to annoy, because he knows it teases." Nevertheless, these phenomena seem to me to have their value as a proof of the existence of a world of spiritual agencies, not cognoscible directly by our sense perceptions. For the crude materialist such incidents must surely be very difficult to explain away. The stones have fallen, for they are solid and still to be seen; but who has thrown them? Crockery, chimney ornaments and glasses have been smashed, heavy pieces of furniture have been moved, pictures have jumped from the walls, but witnesses declare that they stood by and saw that no human hand came near them. Now it would be a very violent supposition to maintain that any human being is so psychically endowed that by taking thought he can make material objects external to himself fly about in eccentric paths, that he can move furniture, spirit away the contents of receptacles closed and locked, or set a curtain on fire by merely looking at it. What the nature of the agency is that performs these marvels we are not called upon to determine. Divines of all creeds in the seventeenth century were satisfied that such alarming phenomena could only be the work of the devil. I am not prepared to declare that they were wrong, though this solution cannot, I submit, be treated as a manner of certainty. But, be this as it may, we may reasonably call upon materialists who deny the possibility of miracles either to provide a physical explanation of these extraordinary poltergeist disturbances, or to submit some reasonable ground for rejecting the mass of evidence by which their reality has been established.
"It may be admitted in any case that nothing could be conceived more purposeless or irrational than the vagaries of the poltergeist. None the less, it seems impossible to reject the evidence which for so many centuries and in every country of the world attests the sporadic occurrence of such phenomena. To attribute them all to diabolic agency is difficult, if only because we credit the enemy of mankind with a higher level of intelligence than that which seems to prompt these outbreaks. Experience has shown that the exorcism and comminatory rites of the Church are not always, or indeed generally, effective in putting and end to poltergeist disturbances, though they sometimes produce a temporary mitigation. On the other hand, I have come across a few cases in which a special novena or the saying of Mass seems definitely to have got rid of the nuisance."
I will submit then, tentatively yet in line with Fr. Thurston's thoughts on the matter, that poltergeist activity is indeed not otherworldly, at least not in a direct sense. In more unusual poltergeist cases which do not follow the common script, such as cases where prayers of exorcism are effective, where serious physical or spiritual harm occurs, or where evidence of witchcraft presents itself, it is rather easier to infer the presence of demonic activity. If we are to accept my conclusions, then we will reject these as being not true poltergeist activity, but rather a demon masquerading as a harmless, though annoying poltergeist.
What then would cause poltergeist activity? Referring back to Fr. Amorth I will suggest that, while a charismatic may have particular preternatural spiritual gifts, a young person afflicted with poltergeist activity has been chosen by God for spiritual trials. I will suggest that the charismatic and the focal point of a poltergeist both have particularly a keen and abnormal (yet likely unconscious) affinity for the spiritual world. While the charismatic may use this affinity for discernment, etc., the focal point of a poltergeist creates a sort of disturbance in the physical world due to his unconscious link to the spiritual world.
As for the reasons for this, we can only speculate. As Fr. Thurston mentions, poltergeist activity is mystifyingly purposeless. Maybe we can compare it to an infant not yet aware of his control over his own body, who thrashes and moves without really understanding how he does it. The mediumistic individual may have a poorly-understood access to the spiritual aspects of Creation, yet does not realize or understand how to control his particular form of control.
We recall also that poltergeist activity seems to be more common in young people. I am reminded of Jesus' call to "let the little children come to Me", and that we must be like children to attain salvation. Children are unique and somewhat anomalous in a very dark world. Maybe they are more open to these things that we do not understand.

Benign/Neutral 'Haunted Houses'
I finally have come to the last category of paranormal activity, and that is the phenomenon of the classic "haunted house." In my opinion this is the trickiest category, and one about which I still have no firm conclusions. We can conclude surely that some kind of haunting of buildings does exist. We know, of course, that inanimate objects may be infested by the demonic. This could be from curses, or from previous satanic activity, or (I think it is reasonable to assume) prolonged contact with someone severely afflicted by the demonic.
However, the demonic infestation of objects does not explain the 'classic' haunted house. These stories seem to have a few characteristics that are much more reminiscent of poltergeists than demons. Generally according to these stories, the house will remain 'haunted' over a long period of time. This seems to conflict with what we so far have believed of deceased human souls, namely that they are only allowed to return for brief periods. (See, for instance, Summa Theologica Supplementum, Q. 69 Article 3) We may answer this by remembering that God's time is not our time, so what seems to be a perpetually haunted house is still only a temporary state for the deceased soul.
More troubling with the cases of haunted houses is the apparent purposelessness, like that of poltergeists, which sheds more doubt on the whole subject. If God allows a soul to return to this world, we know it must be for some greater purpose. In the case of haunted houses, it appears more often than not that the entity does not interact with any living parties
I have heard two complementary explanations for the presence of haunted houses that I will share now. The first is that the classic haunted house is inhabited by the soul of a person in purgatory, and that their presence in the world of the living is to obtain our prayers for its salvation. By our awareness of its presence, we may be called to offer prayers for its purification.
The second explanation addresses the apparent purposelessness of hauntings, and that is that for some reason, these souls are unable to communicate in a direct manner with we who are living. We might speculate even, that some aspect of their purgation involves time on earth, mostly in isolation. I am considering for instance, a person who, though in a state of grace, was so attached to his house that he must be rid of this attachment to be free of the inclination to sin. Maybe his primary purpose on earth is to rid himself of this attachment, and secondarily, by our awareness of him we should pray that he is able to do so. This explanation also offers a clue as to why some hauntings are more subtle than others. This may conform to the level of attachment to that particular building on the part of the deceased.
Though I covered it elsewhere, I feel that I should say again that if a 'haunting' is violent or involves emotional, spiritual, psychological, or even physical harm, then it is almost certainly a demon masquerading as a soul in purgatory.
I will note finally that I consider many so-called haunted houses to be explainable by natural reasons. Some recent research has shown that certain frequencies which are below our ability to detect can cause sympathetic vibrations in the body that simulate feelings of dread, the feeling of being watched, or even the sensation of seeing something out of the corner of your eye. It is possible that some pipes vibrate at this particular range of frequencies, as well as old electronics, etc..


The Powers of Evil Spirits

I mentioned above that I wished to take a moment to discuss the potential power that the souls of the damned can have over us. This section is purely speculative, and I'd welcome any additional research that could be contributed. I'll open with Fr. Euteneuer's treatment of the topic.


Exorcism and the Church Militant
Pages 105-106
"Whether damned souls can actually possess living persons is an open question still debated even by experienced exorcists, but the classical view is against the idea. Notwithstanding what was mentioned above about "separated souls", it is hard to see how a damned human soul would be released from hell to independently possess or haunt another human being. This is first of all based upon the biblical image of the "chasm between us and you" of the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. A damned soul would not have the spiritual power over nature to return to torment humans as a demon would and, being separated from the body, would not likely be able to manifest itself in the world with any great power that would be needed for an actual possession. If a damned soul were somehow "attached" to a demon roaming the world, such a soul would be entirely controlled by the stronger demon and theoretically participate vicariously in the demon's haunting, harassing, frightening or possession of the living human person but not be able to do those same activities on its own. This however, is pure speculation and is not defined doctrinally. Biblically and theologically, it is most accurate to presume that damned human souls do not possess or torment other human beings."
I wish to speculate just a bit further in the same direction as Fr. Euteneuer.
I think first of all, an important recognition is that a damned human soul is still human, and therefore has the same nature and ability as any other human. However, no longer having a body, it will not have the same limitations or strengths as a living human.
Since these souls are not confined by a body, I think it is reasonable to suggest that they are able to co-exist within the body of a living person. I think that it is also reasonable that, once existing within a body, they would be able to cause spiritual disturbances and generally harass the victim.
More important however, is to examine why these things may be able to happen. As Fr. Euteneuer says, it is somewhat problematic to think that the damned souls may temporarily leave hell independently. To answer this, I propose that it may be possible for a soul to temporarily leave hell while being controlled by a demon, however over the course of harassment of the victim God has not allowed the demon any amount of latitude. We know very clearly that demons are able to do only what God has allowed. Thus, I think we may suggest that while the demon was not given permission to oppress or possess the victim, the damned soul accompanying the demon was given some amount of permission to test and otherwise oppress the living soul.


Discernment of Spirits

But prove all things; hold fast that which is good. (1 Thessalonians 5, 21)
Last of all, we will spend a moment on the discernment of spirits. For this, I will merely copy verbatim from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola:

RULES FOR THE SAME EFFECT WITH GREATER DISCERNMENT OF SPIRITS

First Rule. The first: It is proper to God and to His Angels in their movements to give true spiritual gladness and joy, taking away all sadness and disturbance which the enemy brings on. Of this latter it is proper to fight against the spiritual gladness and consolation, bringing apparent reasons, subtleties and continual fallacies.
Second Rule. The second: It belongs to God our Lord to give consolation to the soul without preceding cause, for it is the property of the Creator to enter, go out and cause movements in the soul, bringing it all into love of His Divine Majesty. I say without cause: without any previous sense or knowledge of any object through which such consolation would come, through one’s acts of understanding and will.
Third Rule. The third: With cause, as well the good Angel as the bad can console the soul, for contrary ends: the good Angel for the profit of the soul, that it may grow and rise from good to better, and the evil Angel, for the contrary, and later on to draw it to his damnable intention and wickedness.
Fourth Rule. The fourth: It is proper to the evil Angel, who forms himself under the appearance of an angel of light, to enter with the devout soul and go out with himself: that is to say, to bring good and holy thoughts, conformable to such just soul, and then little by little he aims at coming out drawing the soul to his covert deceits and perverse intentions.
Fifth Rule. The fifth: We ought to note well the course of the thoughts, and if the beginning, middle and end is all good, inclined to all good, it is a sign of the good Angel; but if in the course of the thoughts which he brings it ends in something bad, of a distracting tendency, or less good than what the soul had previously proposed to do, or if it weakens it or disquiets or disturbs the soul, taking away its peace, tranquillity and quiet, which it had before, it is a clear sign that it proceeds from the evil spirit, enemy of our profit and eternal salvation.
Sixth Rule. The sixth: When the enemy of human nature has been perceived and known by his serpent’s tail and the bad end to which he leads on, it helps the person who was tempted by him, to look immediately at the course of the good thoughts which he brought him at their beginning, and how little by little he aimed at making him descend from the spiritual sweetness and joy in which he was, so far as to bring him to his depraved intention; in order that with this experience, known and noted, the person may be able to guard for the future against his usual deceits.
Seventh Rule. The seventh: In those who go on from good to better, the good Angel touches such soul sweetly, lightly and gently, like a drop of water which enters into a sponge; and the evil touches it sharply and with noise and disquiet, as when the drop of water falls on the stone.
And the above-said spirits touch in a contrary way those who go on from bad to worse.
The reason of this is that the disposition of the soul is contrary or like to the said Angels. Because, when it is contrary, they enter perceptibly with clatter and noise; and when it is like, they enter with silence as into their own home, through the open door.
Eighth Rule. The eighth: When the consolation is without cause, although there be no deceit in it, as being of God our Lord alone, as was said; still the spiritual person to whom God gives such consolation, ought, with much vigilance and attention, to look at and distinguish the time itself of such actual consolation from the following, in which the soul remains warm and favored with the favor and remnants of the consolation past; for often in this second time, through one’s own course of habits and the consequences of the concepts and judgments, or through the good spirit or through the bad, he forms various resolutions and opinions which are not given immediately by God our Lord, and therefore they have need to be very well examined before entire credit is given them, or they are put into effect.
To summarize: those spirits which serve Satan sow only discord and weaken our faith. They can do nothing else. The spirits who are conformed with God's Will bring consolation and strength.
While this properly applies to demons and angels, we can also use these principles when dealing with human souls. We know that evil souls can bring nothing but harm, as they are no longer capable of righteousness. Conversely, we know that souls who have joined the Church Triumphant can never harm us. Souls in purgatory are slightly different. They are also incapable of sin, however they are not perfected. I think it is reasonable to think that they could frighten us (unintentionally), though they could not cause us actual harm.


Closing Remarks:


I wish to conclude reaffirming that the only paranormal activity that could possibly occur is that which is allowed by God, and this activity will be permitted only for an express purpose. In the case of spiritual harassment, it is meant to test us like Job was tested, in order to deepen our faith. For souls in purgatory, we are to pray for their purification, which of course has secondary benefits for our own virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Finally, for souls who are already enjoying the Beatific Vision, their purpose would be to guide, console, and help us.
We have nothing to fear from the paranormal. In cases of evil attacks we always have recourse to the authority of the Church in formal exorcisms and liturgical healing, and also through the authority we all share as Christians, in the universal priesthood of baptism.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Analysis of Universae Ecclesiae:

It's been out for a few hours now, and we've all had our chance to give it a quick once over. Fr. Z was lucky enough to be able to prepare his analysis in advance, so my remarks are necessarily going to be somewhat similar to his. I'm going to start at the beginning and address anything of interest that I see as we move along. I'm glad it's a short document; otherwise I wouldn't be able to finish the whole thing in time.

Introduction:
First of all, we see the use of my favourite phrase: Lex orandi, lex credendi. Never a bad thing to see that. The document refers to the very obvious fact that our sacramental practices must be maintained for the sake of the entire Church.
After that we see a very brief history of the old Mass since Vatican II. Bl. John Paul II granted an indult (Quattuor abhinc annos), followed by a motu proprio (Ecclesia Dei) which allowed the TLM to be said with permission from the ordinary, which was to be generously granted.
Next , §7, we find an explanation of why the TLM seemed to be effectively forbidden after Vatican II, even though Summorum Pontificum states that it was never abrogated. "Such norms needed on account of the fact that, when the new Missal had been introduced under Pope Paul VI, it had not seemed necessary to issue guidelines regulating the use of the 1962 Liturgy." This may be a little bit of whitewashing; from what I hear, the TLM was effectively forbidden for many of those years. However, since I didn't experience it myself, I'm willing to accept it.
I think that the last paragraph of §7 is especially important. "What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well, and cannot be suddenly prohibited altogether or even judged harmful." This was quoting Pope Benedict in 2007. In my opinion this puts into their place those opinions that we are Latin Catholics are obliged to attend to Ordinary Form simple because it is Ordinary. I consider this opinion to be incorrect and harmful to those who are attached to the old Mass, or those who may in the future wish to know more about it. In fact, I think it can be argued based on these passages that, for those who are attached to the TLM, it is in fact a responsibility to attend. As we see in §8, the old Mass is "considered as a precious treasure to be preserved." Who is to preserve it but the priests and laypeople? It is not merely our right to attend Mass in this form, it is indeed our responsibility to see it made available as widely as possible.

The Responsibilities of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei:
This section is quick and interesting in that it specifically places the authority of Ecclesia Dei above the local ordinary in matters regarding the TLM. We've been given recourse the Ecclesia Dei then, if our bishops are resistant to introducing the Extraordinary Form. I'm thinking at the moment of the time a couple hears ago (during the H1N1 scare) where my bishop temporarily suspended Communion on the tongue. The FSSP politely (and quite rightly) indicated that they could not comply with this directive (they cannot still, according to a section later on in this document), so the TLM was suspended until that directive was lifted. I don't think this was appropriate on the part of my bishop, and now if something similar happens in the future, Ecclesia Dei has the authority to override him.

Specific Norms:
In §15 we see first a bit of directive as to what defines a "coetus fidelium", the group of the faithful mentioned in Summorum Pontificum. First, there is again no mention of numbers. As far as I'm concerned a group consists of three or more, and I believe that since both Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae decline to go into any detail, we are to assume that a small group carries just as much weight as a large one. In fact, according to §17.2, if a group is very small they are to approach the Ordinary (bishop), who is to make the Mass available for them at a particular church. Also, this group need not be composed solely of members of that particular parish.
As per §16, if a group of the faithful has a priest who is willing to say the TLM for them, and this priest presents himself at a parish or oratory, he is to be given that opportunity by the pastor (within the reasonable bounds of the parish's regular schedule).
The only stipulation on groups of the faithful is that they may not "support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or [...] against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Church." Not even those people who attend SSPX Masses can be said to belong to this. I don't even know why a group of sedevacantists/sedeprivationists, etc., would want to celebrate Mass within the Church, but there you go.
With regards for qualified priests, we see that a priest is considered qualified to say Mass in the Extraordinary Form if he is not impeded by canon law, has a basic knowledge of Latin so as to pronounce the words and understand their meaning, and have celebrated it in the past.
Furthermore (§21), we see that seminarians are to be given the opportunity to learn the Extraordinary Form, and we are also reminded of the obligation to be familiar with Latin. Sadly the knowledge of Latin is not currently a part of most seminary curricula, and I'm not sure what we can do right now to change that.
According to §24, the rubrics of the 1962 missal must be followed when celebrating that Mass. I figured this was self-evident, but just recently we heard about a parish in which the TLM was celebrated with female altar servers. Thankfully this is clearly not permitted in the TLM. This would also reaffirm the position of the FSSP with regards to the H1N1 issue I mentioned above.
However (and this was also self-evident, in my opinion), regarding the disciplinary norms connected to celebration, the 1983 Code of Canon Law is to be observed. If I'm not mistaken this includes such things as the Eucharistic fast, the number of times a person can participate in Mass in a single day, the wearing of veils etc..
According to §31, only Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life are permitted to ordain (minor or major) in the older form of the Mass. This was the case before, so nothing new here, although I have to admit that I don't understand the reasoning behind this. Would be nice if it changed sometime in the future.
With regards to the Easter Triduum, it is the right of the faithful to celebrate in the Extraordinary Form (§33), and if there is no church exclusively for their use, they are to be accomodated, "not excluding the possibility of a repetition of the celebration of the Sacred Triduum in the same church." This is what happened in my diocese, since the FSSP share a diocesan church.

So, that's how it is. It's a very good document, and it gives us a bit more legal weight when asking that the TLM be celebrated regularly. It's important to note, like I said above, that not only is it our right to participate in the Extraordinary Form, it is in fact our responsibility to see that it is faithfully maintained. I think we should be proud of this responsibility. We are going to contribute to the liturgical renewal of the Church, and participating in the Traditional Mass is a perfectly legitimate means of doing so. Also important to remember is that Ecclesia Dei has immediate authority with regards to the old Form over our local bishops, so if they for any reason resist regular implementation of the TLM, we have an advocate in Ecclesia Dei.

We should thank Ecclesia Dei and the Holy Father for this Instruction, and as always we should pray that the TLM is made widely and regularly available across the entire world, for the sanctification of us and our brothers and sisters in the faith.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Universae Ecclesiae

Edit to add:
This post was written before U.E. was released. This post contains my analysis of it.
Note, May 14:Since this post is getting significantly more traffic than the analysis, I've posted the analysis on this page as well.


Analysis of U.E.:

It's been out for a few hours now, and we've all had our chance to give it a quick once over. Fr. Z was lucky enough to be able to prepare his analysis in advance, so my remarks are necessarily going to be somewhat similar to his. I'm going to start at the beginning and address anything of interest that I see as we move along. I'm glad it's a short document; otherwise I wouldn't be able to finish the whole thing in time.

Introduction:
First of all, we see the use of my favourite phrase: Lex orandi, lex credendi. Never a bad thing to see that. The document refers to the very obvious fact that our sacramental practicesmust be maintained for the sake of the entire Church.
After that we see a very brief history of the old Mass since Vatican II. Bl. John Paul II granted an indult (Quattuor abhinc annos), followed by a motu proprio (Ecclesia Dei) which allowed the TLM to be said with permission from the ordinary, which was to be generously granted.
Next , §7, we find an explanation of why the TLM seemed to be effectively forbidden after Vatican II, even though Summorum Pontificum states that it was never abrogated. "Such norms needed on account of the fact that, when the new Missal had been introduced under Pope Paul VI, it had not seemed necessary to issue guidelines regulating the use of the 1962 Liturgy." This may be a little bit of whitewashing; from what I hear, the TLM was effectively forbidden for many of those years. However, since I didn't experience it myself, I'm willing to accept it.
I think that the last paragraph of §7 is especially important. "What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well, and cannot be suddenly prohibited altogether or even judged harmful." This was quoting Pope Benedict in 2007. In my opinion this puts into their place those opinions that we are Latin Catholics are obliged to attend to Ordinary Form simple because it is Ordinary. I consider this opinion to be incorrect and harmful to those who are attached to the old Mass, or those who may in the future wish to know more about it. In fact, I think it can be argued based on these passages that, for those who are attached to the TLM, it is in fact a responsibility to attend. As we see in §8, the old Mass is "considered as a precious treasure to be preserved." Who is to preserve it but the priests and laypeople? It is not merely our right to attend Mass in this form, it is indeed our responsibility to see it made available as widely as possible.

The Responsibilities of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei:
This section is quick and interesting in that it specifically places the authority of Ecclesia Dei above the local ordinary in matters regarding the TLM. We've been given recourse the Ecclesia Dei then, if our bishops are resistant to introducing the Extraordinary Form. I'm thinking at the moment of the time a couple hears ago (during the H1N1 scare) where my bishop temporarily suspended Communion on the tongue. The FSSP politely (and quite rightly) indicated that they could not comply with this directive (they cannot still, according to a section later on in this document), so the TLM was suspended until that directive was lifted. I don't think this was appropriate on the part of my bishop, and now if something similar happens in the future, Ecclesia Dei has the authority to override him.

Specific Norms:
In §15 we see first a bit of directive as to what defines a "coetus fidelium", the group of the faithful mentioned in Summorum Pontificum. First, there is again no mention of numbers. As far as I'm concerned a group consists of three or more, and I believe that since both Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae decline to go into any detail, we are to assume that a small group carries just as much weight as a large one. In fact, according to §17.2, if a group is very small they are to approach the Ordinary (bishop), who is to make the Mass available for them at a particular church. Also, this group need not be composed solely of members of that particular parish.
As per §16, if a group of the faithful has a priest who is willing to say the TLM for them, and this priest presents himself at a parish or oratory, he is to be given that opportunity by the pastor (within the reasonable bounds of the parish's regular schedule).
The only stipulation on groups of the faithful is that they may not "support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or [...] against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Church." Not even those people who attend SSPX Masses can be said to belong to this. I don't even know why a group of sedevacantists/sedeprivationists, etc., would want to celebrate Mass within the Church, but there you go.
With regards for qualified priests, we see that a priest is considered qualified to say Mass in the Extraordinary Form if he is not impeded by canon law, has a basic knowledge of Latin so as to pronounce the words and understand their meaning, and have celebrated it in the past.
Furthermore (§21), we see that seminarians are to be given the opportunity to learn the Extraordinary Form, and we are also reminded of the obligation to be familiar with Latin. Sadly the knowledge of Latin is not currently a part of most seminary curricula, and I'm not sure what we can do right now to change that.
According to §24, the rubrics of the 1962 missal must be followed when celebrating that Mass. I figured this was self-evident, but just recently we heard about a parish in which the TLM was celebrated with female altar servers. Thankfully this is clearly not permitted in the TLM. This would also reaffirm the position of the FSSP with regards to the H1N1 issue I mentioned above.
However (and this was also self-evident, in my opinion), regarding the disciplinary norms connected to celebration, the 1983 Code of Canon Law is to be observed. If I'm not mistaken this includes such things as the Eucharistic fast, the number of times a person can participate in Mass in a single day, the wearing of veils etc..
According to §31, only Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life are permitted to ordain (minor or major) in the older form of the Mass. This was the case before, so nothing new here, although I have to admit that I don't understand the reasoning behind this. Would be nice if it changed sometime in the future.
With regards to the Easter Triduum, it is the right of the faithful to celebrate in the Extraordinary Form (§33), and if there is no church exclusively for their use, they are to be accomodated, "not excluding the possibility of a repetition of the celebration of the Sacred Triduum in the same church." This is what happened in my diocese, since the FSSP share a diocesan church.

So, that's how it is. It's a very good document, and it gives us a bit more legal weight when asking that the TLM be celebrated regularly. It's important to note, like I said above, that not only is it our right to participate in the Extraordinary Form, it is in fact our responsibility to see that it is faithfully maintained. I think we should be proud of this responsibility. We are going to contribute to the liturgical renewal of the Church, and participating in the Traditional Mass is a perfectly legitimate means of doing so. Also important to remember is that Ecclesia Dei has immediate authority with regards to the old Form over our local bishops, so if they for any reason resist regular implementation of the TLM, we have an advocate in Ecclesia Dei.

We should thank Ecclesia Dei and the Holy Father for this Instruction, and as always we should pray that the TLM is made widely and regularly available across the entire world, for the sanctification of us and our brothers and sisters in the faith.

Original (pre-release) Post:

According to Fr. Z, whom I trust very much, the new instruction on Summorum Pontificum (Universae Ecclesiae) is to be released to the public at noon (Rome time) on Friday. The Vatican press corps already has the text (I suppose so they can write about it right after it's released), but the rest of us have to wait to get a first look at it.
Fr. Z seems to be cautiously pleased with it. He described it as a no-hitter, but not a perfect game, which seems to be far more good than bad. Especially encouraging is his opinion that the National catholic Reported (a.k.a. the Fishwrap) is going to hate it. That's always a good thing, although not saying much since they hate everything legitimately Catholic.
My plan is to print off Universae Ecclesiae as soon as I get up in the morning, read over it while I'm at work, then write a blog post as soon as I can after I get home. Let's all pray that it's great stuff.

If you remember, the rumours much earlier on were that this instruction was going to roll back some of the gains we traddies have been made since Summorum Pontificum. If my perception of the atmosphere is correct, this isn't the worry any longer. In any case, I find it unlikely that the Holy Father would sign a document which was in any way hostile to his own obvious love and respect for the Traditional Mass. (If the rumours I've heard are correct, he's been known to celebrate it privately since his election to the papacy.)

Anyway, pray that this new document makes the Old Mass more widely available, thereby deepening the faith and reverence of our Catholic brothers and sisters.

This is the TLM available in my city. I'm a big fan of Fr. Christopher Blust, FSSP.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Didache, Reverence at Mass

The Didache is one of the oldest, if not the single oldest piece of Christian writing that has been found to date. It is commonly dated to around the year 100, and it is thought to be an early catechism. Some of the Fathers of the Church considered it part of the New Testament canon, and while it was ultimately not included in the canon of Scripture (except for the Ethiopian Orthodox, who seem to have a much broader Canon than the rest of orthodox Christianity), it does provide an invaluable look into the early Church, and especially giving us a glimpse into how the more Jewish form of Christianity developed into its own distinct Faith.
The first part of the Didache is considered by many scholars to be part of an older Jewish manuscript which was adapted later for Christian purposes.

Especially notable in my opinion is the specific condemnation of abortion contained in the second chapter.

"And this is the second commandment of the teaching: you shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not corrupt children, nor practice sexual deviation; you shall not steal; nor practice calling on spiritual guides; nor use sorcery; you shall not procure an abortion, nor practice infanticide; you shall not covet your neighbor's goods.


You shall not commit perjury, nor accuse someone falsely; you shall not speak evil nor hold a grudge. You shall not be double minded nor double tongued, for the double tongue is the snare of death. Your word shall not be false or empty, but do what you say.


You shall not be covetous or extortionate, or hypocritical, or malicious or proud. You shall not plan evil against your neighbor. You should not hate anyone; but you should reprove some, and you should pray for some, and you should love some more then your own life."
(Source)

Of course we know as Catholics, that a specific condemnation of abortion is unnecessary, since it falls directly under the prohibition of murder. I suppose that is further evidence that the Didache was intended as a catechism; converts may not necessarily have been aware that abortion is indeed murder.
Also significant is the condemnation of sorcery, divination, and use of mediums. This, we recall, is in the Bible in a few different sections (for example Exodus 22, 1 Samuel 28, Revelation 22), but we can take this as evidence that, while as Christians we're not necessarily called upon to put witches to death any longer under the old Law, we are certainly not to tolerate their evil practices.

I think my favourite part though, is this bit: "You should not hate anyone; but you should reprove some, and you should pray for some, and you should love some more then your own life."
As Catholics who are active on the internet, we probably hear several times a day somebody harping on us for being uncharitable... and sometimes they're right, sometimes we are, but sometimes we're saying things that need to be said. To allow error and blasphemy and heterodoxy to go uncorrected is far greater an injustice than correcting it, even if the correction seems harsh at the time. At the end of the day, a correction made in the spirit of Christian charity is directed towards helping the other party to come to the Faith, or to deepen their Faith and their love of God.
I think it's especially important to inspire our Catholic brethren to greater reverence in the context of the Holy Mass. If I could convince everyone I encounter of one thing, that would be it. I am reminded of what Cardinal Arinze said with regards to receiving the Eucharist kneeling. "If we believe, if we truly believe that it is Jesus, the Son of God, then why don't we kneel, why don't we crawl?"
Here is the video of him saying that:

(Skip to about 2:10 if you don't want to watch the whole thing.)

Basically what Cardinal Arinze says in this video, and which I agree with 120% is that if we truly love and respect and fear our God, that we should show it with our actions. It's simple, but so often forgotten, or even denied. Those who say it are labelled as Pharisees, or spiritually prideful. No, we're not. We believe that our exterior actions reflect and influence our interior disposition. That is why we kneel before Christ in our Holy Eucharist. That's why we genuflect towards Him in the Tabernacle, and receive Him kneeling, or at the very least bow, if you must stand.
As we read in Redemptionis Sacramentum: "The Mystery of the Eucharist is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured." We are responsible for doing our part that the great Sacrament is never trivialized. We should fall down and worship Him, not treat the Mass like a community gathering or prayer meeting or an empty ritual.

So I will keep the Didache in mind. I will never hate, though I will sometimes reprove, in the spirit of charity and faithful correction. I will do so with prayer, and with a love greater than my own life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Follow-Up: God's Justice

While early this morning I spoke at some length about praying for God's mercy, today I feel that I must also present the other perspective of praying for God's justice.

Above all as Christians, every facet of our worldly lives must be understood through the lens of Christ's sacrifice for us. Through His death of the Cross, Jesus Christ took all the sin of the world onto Himself and washed it in His Blood. This was a real, discrete point in history, and utterly unique. It is in fact radical and unfathomable, that God Himself would consent to becoming Man, and not only that, but being murdered by other men- brutally tortured, dying as a common criminal and mocked by His own people. He allowed this complete rejection so that through it we could be reconciled to Him in the most intimate way possible.
When we understand this, we also understand the enormity and wretched tragedy behind any man's rejection of salvation. To murder is to reject a most decisive way this grace that is offered to us through Christ's death. Our God, our Creator and Redeemer and Sanctifier, suffered and died so that we personally might be saved, yet when we sin we throw this back in His face. We reject Him all over again. Nothing could possibly would God more than our rejection of His Sacrifice.

We see in the Catechism:
1021 Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. the parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul -a destiny which can be different for some and for others.
1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification or immediately,-or immediate and everlasting damnation.
At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.

So while we pray for mercy, we simultaneously pray for justice. Both are informed and perfected in the other. They are not opposed of course, but they are two complementary sides of God's great love.
We see further that the primary punishment of hell is eternal separation from God. (CCC 1035) We know further that this eternal separation can only occur by the free choice of the person who is judged. Our God of love does not enslave us to Him, but rather calls us by name and asks us to follow Him. We know that it is possible to reject our salvation, and each man has in his life ample opportunity to accept or reject God's love. We recall the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

[22] And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. And the rich man also died: and he was buried in hell. [23] And lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom: [24] And he cried, and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame. [25] And Abraham said to him: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazareth evil things, but now he is comforted; and thou art tormented.
[26] And besides all this, between us and you, there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot, nor from thence come hither. [27] And he said: Then, father, I beseech thee, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house, for I have five brethren, [28] That he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments. [29] And Abraham said to him: They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. [30] But he said: No, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance.
[31] And he said to him: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead.

(Lk. 16: 21-31)

Jesus shows us through this story that He has offered the means for salvation to every man, including the most wicked of sinners. They have the words of Moses and the prophets, and now they also have the life of Christ and His death, as well as the Church Christ established on earth and the leaders of that Church who carry out His mission. We do not and cannot understand fully the workings of God's mercy, but what we do know is that it is accessible by all, and by that very fact also able to be rejected by any.

Osama bin Laden was responsible for great evil in the world, and we know that, even if he did accept God's mercy at the end, that he must make reparation for his deeds. However, it is also certain that, as much as he had the opportunity to accept God's mercy, he also had his chances to reject it, and if he did so, he cannot be saved. The only unforgivable sin is that which rejects the possibility of reconciliation. At the moment of his judgement he may have turned away from God and been cast into the unquenchable fire.
As we established before, we cannot as Christians pray or hope that he did reject God's salvation. To do so is an affront to Christ's sacrifice. It is pro-death and wound's our own souls, also attacking the radical love of Christ's death. However we also know that God's will is done, and justice is assured.

[19] Revenge not yourselves, my dearly beloved; but give place unto wrath, for it is written: Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.

(Romans 12: 19)

Pray for mercy; pray for justice; and most of all pray that you do not reject the enormous sacrifice that was Christ's love, poured out for us from the Cross.

[11] And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father. [12] Wherefore, my dearly beloved, (as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but much more now in my absence,) with fear and trembling work out your salvation. [13] For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will. [14] And do ye all things without murmurings and hesitations; [15] That you may be blameless, and sincere children of God, without reproof, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation; among whom you shine as lights in the world.

(Philippians 2: 11-15)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

If You're Pro-Life, You Must Pray For Osama bin Laden

The breaking news this evening is that Osama bin Laden has been confirmed killed by the U.S. military. While emotions are running high, I will propose this:
It is the moral obligation of all who are truly pro-life to pray that God has mercy on his soul.
Secondly, I propose that to desire the damnation of bin Laden is just as evil, if not worse than the murder of innocents.



Our God desires the salvation of all. We know this from Scripture and Tradition. God desires to save bin Laden as much as any other person. By a miracle, he may have repented of his sins before his death, and our prayers may contribute to that. God is outside of time, and therefore when He receives our prayers, neither are our prayers subject to temporal constraints. To pray now may have saved Osama last week (or whenever it was that he was killed).
With his death, he stood before God in judgement. In that moment that Christ looked upon him, he would have seen in brutal clarity the magnitude of his sins. He is judged by Christ, and at the same time he also judges himself now that his intellect has been purified by the Holy Ghost. Whereas in his life he may have had a distorted and perverted sense of right and wrong, good and evil, now he sees himself as he truly is. Whether he repented or not we cannot know, but in the end no matter what became of his soul, it was by his choice. One way or another he was given his chance to accept Christ's sacrifice. Maybe now he makes reparation for his sin... or maybe he has been cast into the fire. However, he had his chance, as we all do. We know that to be true.

Some, through a distortion of justice, wish Osama to be in hell. This is in fact as pro-death as it is possible to be. This attitude is a perversion of justice, not a fulfillment of it. When the body is destroyed, as in murder, the soul of the victim remains unharmed. This is why the death of our martyrs is a cause for  reverence. Death is conquered through the Blood of Christ. The horror of murder is not only in the death of the innocent, but most poignantly in the damage to the soul of the murderer. By committing murder, the murderer rejects in the most radical way possible the gift of life in the innocent, as well as the gift of life in himself. He rejects in himself the possibility of salvation. He turns his back on Christ on the Cross. This is the real tragedy when a murder is committed. Certainly, the soul of the dead innocent prays to God for the soul of the murderer.
If one hopes for, even prays for the damnation of Osama bin Laden, are they not also rejecting the possibility of salvation? The murderer delights in the death of the body, but those who pray to damn the murderer delight in the eternal death and torment of his soul.

From the Sermon on the Mount:
[21] You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. [22] But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. [23] If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath any thing against thee; [24] Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift. [25] Be at agreement with thy adversary betimes, whilst thou art in the way with him: lest perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

[21] "Shall be in danger of the judgment"... That is, shall deserve to be punished by that lesser tribunal among the Jews, called the Judgment, which took cognizance of such crimes.


[22] "Raca"... A word expressing great indignation or contempt. Shall be in danger of the council ... That is, shall deserve to be punished by the highest court of judicature, called the Council, or Sanhedrim, consisting of seventy-two persons, where the highest causes were tried and judged, which was at Jerusalem.


[22] "Thou fool"... This was then looked upon as a heinous injury, when uttered with contempt, spite, or malice: and therefore is here so severely condemned. Shall be in danger of hell fire-- literally, according to the Greek, shall deserve to be cast into the Gehenna of fire. Which words our Saviour made use of to express the fire and punishments of hell.

(Mt. 5: 21-25)

We cannot wish for the torment and eternal death of the soul of a murderer. To do so is even more radically pro-death than the abortionists, the warlords, and the assassins. We must pray for his life too. If we are as pro-life as we say, then his life is precious to us as well.

Tonight we must pray that God has mercy on the soul of Osama bin Laden. No matter how violently your mind revolts against this, it must be done. Pray that God gives you a sense of His mercy. Pray that you imitate the prayers of the Church Triumphant. Pray for his soul. It's for his sake and for yours.
"When thy enemy shall fall, be not glad, and in his ruin let not thy heart rejoice."