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Like last week, there is a new set of questions to be answered. People came here in the past week to find answers, and I hope they found at least some indication of them, but if not: here is some more direct and detailed information. I will try my best to give useful and truthful answers, but in the case of some of today’s question it is really better to consult a priest, theologian or Church historian.
1. Is Roman Catholicism legal in the Netherlands?
Simple answer: yes. There is no prohibition on being Catholic or speaking and writing about being Catholic in the Netherlands. Article 6 of the Dutch Constitution protects every citizen to freely confess their faith within the limits of the law.
The Catholic Church is fully established in the Netherlands, with full diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and the Holy See, a resident Papal Nuncio and a bishops’ conference.
2. Explain why the Eucharistic liturgy is meant to be the source and summit of our spiritual lives.
This is one of those questions I referred to above. I will try to offer a basic explanation, but you are really best served with someone who is more knowledgeable about this.
The Eucharistic liturgy is the whole of rituals, words, gestures and actions we use to celebrate the Eucharist. That liturgy is a unity and reflects the content of what we celebrate: the Eucharist. And is that Eucharist that is the source and summit of the Christian life. By source we mean that everything we do as Christians has its origins in the Eucharist, and by summit we mean that that Eucharist is also the highest goal that we can achieve. Nothing exceeds or transcends it.
The Eucharist is Christ on the Cross, God who sacrificed Himself for us. The Eucharist is then a supreme act of love. For Himself, God need not have died, but He did so out of love for us. We needed it. He did not.
That sacrifice, that divine love, is the engine that drives our Christian life. Our love for God and our neighbours, our desire to be loved, flows from the divine love.
If we do not give the Eucharist, the Holy Mass, an important place in our Christian life, we take away the driving force, the nourishment for our Christian actions and words, our life. Christ gave Himself for us, now we need to accept Him in our hearts, and that is what the Eucharist does for us, and what we do in the Eucharist.
3. Who initiated transubstantiation in the Catholic Church?
Jesus Christ did. At the Last Supper, He gave bread and wine as His Body and Blood to His followers. And these followers were well aware of what Jesus had said about those things earlier:
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the desert and they are dead; but this is the bread which comes down from heaven, so that a person may eat it and not die. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (Joh 6:48-51).
When Jesus then said, at the Last Supper, “This is my body” and ‘This is my blood”, the Apostles would have remembered the above passage. Although they had no way of understanding how, they would also have no doubt that Christ was serious: He is the living bread, and the bread He now brings is, as He says, His body.
But since when does the Church refer to this mystery as ‘transubstantiation’? A quick glance at Wikipedia shows us that the term appeared in the Middle Ages, and at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 the Church first used it in writing. But although they didn’t use the word ‘transubstantiation’, the fact of bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Christ had already been accepted by the earliest Church Fathers, such as St Ignatius of Antioch and St. Justin Martyr (both in the first half of the second century).
The answer to the question would then be: Christ initiated it, and the Church recognised the mysterious transubstantiation virtually from the very start.
4. Can I have an altar just for saints?
Well, depending on what you mean by ‘altar’, you either can or can not. If you are referring to the surface upon which the sacrifice of the Mass takes place, I don’t think you can. Such an altar is always for Christ, although it can feature images or statues of saints, of course.
However, if you are talking about a small ‘prayer table’ in your home, you most definitely can, although I would personally recommend that you also include Christ. A set place in the house where you can go and light a candle and pray is definitely a good thing, and such a place can include statues or images of saints to help us pray. Certainly when you have a special devotion to a certain saint, you may want to give that saint pride of place, and frequently ask him or her to intercede for your intentions with the Lord.
As long as there is no danger of your prayer table (ie. not an altar upon which the Eucharistic sacrifice takes place) becoming a site for idolatry, you may certainly use images of saints to help you focus on Christ and your relationship with Him.
In a series of Tweets yesterday, the former secretary of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (the de facto head of that church community), announced that he was “done with the pretense of the Catholic Church. I see her as a church among churches and freely take part in the Eucharist”.
Dr. Bas Plaisier, who today works as a teacher at a Lutheran seminary in Hong Kong, was the scriba of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands until 2008.
In his statement on Twitter, which was met with both praise and criticism, Dr. Plaisier presumably means to say that he attends Holy Mass (which he is of course very welcome to do) and also receives Communion. He supports this action by saying that many Catholics agree with him and that what matters is who you invite. “And in that respect teachings or church do not matter”.
The Catholic Church invites, to use Dr. Plaisier’s words, those to Communion who are not only in a state of grace, but who also live according to and agree with the faith of the Church. Part of that faith is the consecration: the bread and wine truly becoming the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Protestant churches generally do not share that faith and can therefore not receive Communion. For, in addition to building community in Christ, Communion is also a confession of our faith. By receiving the Body and Blood of Christ we basically express our faith in God, and our intention of following all His teachings that come to us via His Church.
In the Protestant Church of Dr. Plaisier, the Last Supper does share similarities with the Eucharist in that is a communal meal. But in the Protestant service, bread and wine remain bread and wine. That is something that Protestant agree with. Leftover bread can be fed to the ducks and leftover wine may be poured down the sink. That is unheard of in the Catholic Church, as any leftover bread and wine are the physical Lord and must therefore be treated with due reverence.
With his statements, Dr. Plaisier does a great disservice to ecumenism. He basically tells the Protestant Churches’ main partner in ecumenism, at least in the Netherlands, that her teachings and faith don’t matter to him. His own opinion and feeling becomes decisive. Dr. Plaisier is a Protestant, and very obviously does not believe in the transsubstation. But is that reason to take the most precious treasure of the Church, Our Lord Himself, and receive Him without agreeing with what He teaches us? That is tantamount to saying, “Lord, that’s all nice what you are saying, but I know better than you, and will simply do what I think is best.”
The Catholic Church is very emphatically not a church among churches. The Protestant church communities are not a church in the way that the Catholic Church is, and the faith the express and share differs in important ways from the faith that has been preserved through the ages in the Catholic Church. We can’t water that faith down by saying that important things, such as the Eucharist, do not really matter, that what matters is that people feel welcome. Of course people should feel welcome, and we should do our best to make them feel welcome. But does that mean that we should bend every which way to do so, to even ignore or change our very identity to make things easier?
People, Protestant or otherwise, are very welcome to come to a Catholic Church, to attend Mass, to pray with Catholics. They are not free to take Catholic teachings and faith and change them to suit their perceived needs. That is deeply insulting for the host (both human and divine) and makes the human person, not God, the decisive factor in such matters. And when it comes to God, we do not decide. He does.
Photo credit: Gerard van Rhoon
By word of the diocesan vicar, the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch has released an open letter, addressed to the “parishioners of Someren and Lierop and other interested parishioners elsewhere”, about ecumenism. The aforementioned parishes had earlier cancelled a planned ‘ecumenical Eucharist’, after the diocese said that something like that is not allowed. The explanation offered by Fr. Ron van den Hout (pictured below)should not come as a surprise to anyone with some understanding of what the Church teaches about ecumenism and the nature of the Eucharist.
Below I have translated the core passages of the letter, which can be read in full, and in Dutch, here.
“The Catholic Church encourages ecumenical contacts with Protestant communities. They should get to know each other; they can undertake social activities together; they can listen to the Word of the God and pray together. It is however not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist or Last Supper together. That prohibition has been repeated time and again by the Popes, but also by the Dutch bishops. Why is it not permitted? Because Last Supper and Eucharist, although they both refer back to the institution and assignment of the Lord, are not the same. The Roman Catholic Church believes that the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is made sacramentally present, and that bread and wine truly and permanently become the Body and Blood of Christ. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, this Eucharist is source and summit of the Church’s life. According to Catholic understanding only a validly ordained priest can consecrate the Eucharist. Protestants don’t have validly ordained priests. They do not believe in the true transformation of bread and wine and have a more symbolic understanding of this sacrament. That is the reason why the Church does not allow a joint celebration. She also does not allow non-Catholics to receive Communion and Catholics to take part in the Protestant Last Supper. This in order to prevent confusion regarding this sacrament which for us is the heart of faith.
Misguided ecumenical actions, such as joint celebration of the Eucharist/Last Supper, hurt the unity and do not advance ecumenism, on the contrary. Unity is then no unity of faith, but a unity in feeling. What matters is that we as church communities, and so not so much as individual parishes and communities, learn to discover, through discussion, conversation and study, what the Lord truly intended with His Church and the sacrament of unity. In the meantime we pray in parishes and communities for the Holy Spirit’s help. Only He can bring true unity closer, step by step.”
The diocese’s letter comes in the wake of some discussion which mostly focussed on the perceived authoritative stance of the diocese. Several media have published this letter as a press release, much like it earlier published a critical letter on a local newspaper’s front page.
Once more because of its (apparently) big, bad, grumpy bishop, the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch is making headlines because Bishop Antoon Hurkmans forbade the parish in Lierop, east of Eindhoven, to celebrate an “ecumenical Mass” (contradictio, right there…) in which both the local priest and Protestant minister would celebrate.
It’s one case under the banner ‘ecumenism’ that has been making the rounds again. And everyone, it seems, has come out to denounce the bishop as unchristian, legalistic, bureaucratic and strict (or other words to that effect). Anyone who actually knows Bishop Hurkmans also knows that these descriptions do not fit him at all. But why, then, does he make such harsh decisions, some may ask.
An answer to that question must include an exploration of what ecumenism actually is. Then, we must also find out what a bishop’s duties in these and other matters are as chief shepherd of a diocese.
What is ecumenism? For one thing, it expresses the desire for unity among all Christians. This answers directly to Christ’s prayer “that all may be one” (John 17:21). Ecumenism is relational; we don’t do ecumenism by ourselves. It is also a goal, since full unity has not been achieved yet. There are still many Christians outside the one Church. These are all facts that we must acknowledge. The various Churches and church communities have their differences and their own identities. We owe it to ourselves and our ecumenical partners to be open and honest about our identity. If we take ecumenism, the desire for unity, seriously, we don’t pretend that we are one when we are not. We don’t hide our differences, but recognise them and try and work towards removing them.
The Mass is the Catholic celebration of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and sacrament. As such, we have a different understanding of it than Protestants do. These are rather fundamental differences which must be overcome before we can speak of unity.
An ecumenical celebration, like the one proposed in Lierop, is a pretense: it’s a lie. We pretend that we are one when we are not. Unity can only be celebrated when it has become fact, not before.
In the case outlined above, Bishop Hurkmans has exercised his duties of safeguarding the transmission of faith. Were priest and minister to concelebrate the Mass, both would be communicating, to their respective flocks, that there is no longer any difference between the Catholic Mass and the Protestant Last Supper. Both would be guilty of lying and misleading the faithful. All this before even considering that a layman, which the minister is, is unable to celebrate Mass. Only an ordained priest can. And the damning thing is that the priest in question should have known that very well.
Does all this mean that Protestants are not welcome in Catholic Churches and at Mass, as certain media have suggested? Of course not. There are many things that Catholics and Protestants have in common and that they can do together. Ignoring the fundamental differences between them is not one of them.
Photo credit: Roy Lazet/Eindhovens Dagblad
And so, as ever surprisingly fast, we rush towards the end of Lent, towards the eternal salvific sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Yesterday, we learned of the betrayal of Judas, and today, on Maundy or Holy Thursday, we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper that Jesus shared with His disciples.
Before He offered Himself on the Cross, Jesus eternally gave Himself to us under the appearance of bread and wine* St. Paul, in his first Letter to the Corinthians (11:23-26), writes:
For the tradition I received from the Lord and also handed on to you is that on the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and after he had given thanks, he broke it, and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’
And in the same way, with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’
Whenever you eat this bread, then, and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.
We’ll hear this passage as the second reading at today’s evening Mass, when the priest washes the feet of twelve faithful, in imitation of Christ washing the feet of His disciples. At the end of Mass, Jesus, in the form of bread and wine, secludes Himself in the altar of repose, the altar is stripped and we enter that final night of His life, alone in prayer while His disciples failed to stay awake with Him.
As He has promised, Jesus is with us every day, and especially so in the Eucharist. We are beings of flesh and blood, as well as spirit, and our nourishment reflects that. The Word that is Christ feeds our heads and hearts, and in the Eucharist He feeds us physically. But unlike a regular meal, the food does not become part of us: we become part of it, of Him.
Tomorrow is Good Friday…
Art credit: “The institution of the Eucharist”, by Joos van Wassenhove, 1473-75
*An enlightening text to consider in this context is John 6: 48-58
“Then one of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty silver pieces, and from then onwards he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ He said, ‘Go to a certain man in the city and say to him, “The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.” The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover.
When evening came he was at table with the Twelve. And while they were eating he said, ‘In truth I tell you, one of you is about to betray me.’ They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn, ‘Not me, Lord, surely?’ He answered, ‘Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me will betray me. The Son of man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’ Judas, who was to betray him, asked in his turn, ‘Not me, Rabbi, surely?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is you who say it.’
So many questions that can be summed up in one word: why? Why did Judas choose to betray Jesus? Wasn’t he there for all the major events of the Lord’s ministry? Didn’t he hear what Jesus said and see what He did?
The answer is perhaps not simple, but we can find it in our own lives. We can ask these questions to ourselves as well. We do we choose to do things that Jesus told us we shouldn’t? Didn’t we hear and see all He said and did? Judas may have had the luxury of seeing and hearing everything as it happened, but it is not as if we can say that we simply did not know. Christ still speaks to us today, and we can still listen to Him.
To follow Jesus requires faith and trust (which often overlap). He promises us much, but what He promises is often in the future, and therefore not yet tangible or visible. And although the truth of His promises is visible in many people all around, in past and present, it is so hard for us to do as He asks us when there are easier and far more certain (and immediate) forms of gratification. The thirty silver pieces ae visible, tangible and can be spent immediately, and Judas can use it to build a better live for himself. At least for the near future. But just as it is immediate, it is also short-term.
The salvation that Jesus offers is not immediate, but it is forever. And even forever is a concept that we can’t grasp. But with faith and trust, enforced by the Lord and by the example of people around us, near and far, we are perfectly able to both believe and complete the journey. It won’t be easy, but it is worth it.
Art credit: “Judas before the Sanhedrin”, by Alexandre Bida
On Maundy Thursday, the day that the Church remembers the Last Supper and so the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood, Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria in the United States sent out a letter to all the clergy and faithful in his diocese. He writes about the location of the tabernacle in churches and chapels, and since tabernacles hold the Blessed Sacrament, their location will reflect the place of the Eucharist in our liturgy and faith.
I decided to share the letter in my blog, because the topic is not endemic to Peoria, or even the United States. Here in the Netherlands too, tabernacles are sometimes found in side altars or off to the side in the main sanctuary.
Emphases mine, to underline some points that are vital, in my opinion.
April 1, 2010
Dear Priests, Deacons, Religious and Faithful of the Diocese of Peoria,
The Mass, of course, is our most important act of worship — the very source and summit of all we do as a Church. A profound reverence for the Reserved Sacrament is also intrinsically related to the Eucharistic liturgy.
The Reserved Sacrament must therefore be treated with the greatest possible respect, because at all times the Blessed Sacrament within that tabernacle, as in the Eucharistic Liturgy, is to be given that worship called latria, which is the adoration given to Almighty God. This intentional honor is incomparably greater than the reverence we give to sacramentals, sacred images, the Baptistry, the Holy Oils, or the Paschal Candle. The Sacrament is reserved not only so that the Eucharist can be brought to the dying and to those unable to attend Mass, but also as the heart and locus of a parish’s prayer and devotion.
There is a kind of bundle of rituals in our Catholic tradition with which we surround the Tabernacle. As we enter or leave the church, we bless ourselves with holy water, we genuflect towards the Tabernacle, we prepare for Mass or give thanks after Mass, consciously in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament. At prayers and devotions, during the Liturgy of the Hours, in any private prayer which takes place in a Catholic Church, we truly pray before the Risen Christ substantially and really present in the Sacrament reserved in the Tabernacle.
These core Catholic convictions and their architectural ramifications have recently been reaffirmed by many Bishops in the United States. As bishop of this Diocese, I am also convinced that where we place the Tabernacle — and how we ritually reverence the Reserved Sacrament — is as important for the continuing Eucharistic catechesis as is all our preaching and teaching. With Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament at the physical center of our places of worship, how can He not also more firmly become the center of our spiritual lives as well?
After consultation with my Presbyteral Council, I am therefore asking that those few parish churches and chapels where the tabernacle is not in the direct center at the back of the sanctuary, that these spaces be redesigned in such a way that the Reserved Sacrament would be placed at the center. In some cases, this change can be easily achieved, but given financial and design restraints, plans for redesign may be submitted to the Office of Divine Worship at any time during the next five years. Monastic communities whose chapels are open to the faithful as semi-public oratories may also request a dispensation from this general regulation according to the norms of their particular liturgical tradition. There may also be some very tiny chapels where a change could be impossible. These requests should be submitted in writing to my office.
I would also like to remind everyone in our Diocese that at Mass, in accord with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the Tabernacle should only be reverenced at the beginning and end of the liturgy or when the Sacrament is being taken from or returned to the Tabernacle. At all other moments and movements in the liturgy it is the Altar of Sacrifice that is to be reverenced. [Er... Yes, this is perfectly in line with the rubrics of the Novus Ordo, but it is so counter-intuitive once one is aware that Christ is truly present in the tabernacle. Outside of Mass I genuflect when passing the tabernacle, so not doing that when I'm performing my duties during Mass just seems... wrong.]
It is my conviction that Eucharistic Liturgy and Eucharistic devotion are never in competition but rather inform and strengthen our shared worship and reverence. May all in our Diocese grow in greater love and appreciation of the gift of the Eucharist.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C.
BISHOP OF PEORIA
If you’re active in the Church, in whatever capacity, the coming days are the busiest of the year. I don’t expect to catch much sleep, especially around Good Friday. There have been cases where I had a full workday, an all-night vigil and another full workday, totalling over 36 hours without sleep. A minor sacrifice.
Here is my schedule:
19:00: Mass. The last Mass before Easter, commemorating the Last Supper. It also includes the Washing of the Feet. The Blessed Sacrament is relocated to the Altar of Repose, as Jesus goes to Gethsemane and ultimately His death and resurrection.
20:30: Start of the vigil. With a friend I’ve organised this all-night vigil for the third time. We watch and pray with Christ in Gethsemane. The cathedral will be open until midnight, although anyone is welcome at any time.
07:00: End of the vigil with Lauds.
15:00: Stations of the Cross. In fourteen stages we relive the journey of Christ to the Cross, from His conviction by Pontius Pilate to His burial. It’s always an emotional experience.
19:00: Serving at the Service of the Passion of the Lord at St. Francis. Not a Mass, since the Lord is not there anymore. We venerate the Cross, tool of our salvation, during this service.
20:30: Serving at Easter Vigil at St. Francis. The early vigil where several catechumens will be baptised and/or confirmed. Always special to be a part of that.
23:00: Easter Vigil at the cathedral. A long Mass, the high point of not just our liturgical year, but our entire existence: Christ is risen! The rituals and music are always fantastic.
11:00: High Mass, offered by Bishop de Korte. Easter continues unabated and we still celebrate.
18:00: Mass for students. Which will be interesting because of a distinct lack of volunteers… But we’ll manage.
11:00: Serving at High Mass.