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No April Fool’s joke, the announcement made by Father Leendert Spijkers on Easter Sunday: granted by Pope Benedict XVI back in February, the 15th century church of St. Peter in Oirschot, Diocese of ’s Hertogenbosch is to be elevated to the status of basilica minor. Bishop Antoon Hurkmans will make the official declaration some time in the summer, making it his diocese’s fourth basilica.
The church of St. Peter in Oirschot dates from 1515, replacing its predecessor which had burned down in 1462. From 1648 to 1799 the church was Protestant, and it wasn’t until 1904 that the local parish regained full ownership of church and tower. In the war, the tower was severely damaged from Allied gunfire, and it took until 1952 for restorations to be completed. The church is one of the largest remaining Gothic village churches in the province of North Brabant. The furnishings are partly original and partly taken from demolished churches with the altars dating from around 1700 and 1766 respectively. The church has been a national monument since 1966.
Age and a certain esthetic value are but two elements which can make a church a basilica. Another, and certainly not the least important, is the presence of a certain devotion within an active parish community. In the case of St. Peter’s, that devotion is to the ‘Holy Oak’.
The story goes that, some time in the early 15th century, two shepherds found a statue of the Blessed Virgin on the banks of the Beerze stream. They placed it an oak, but inhabitants of nearby Middelbeers took the statue and put it in their church. The next morning, though, the statue was back in the oak. Villagers of Oirschot came to venerate the statue, and there were reports of miraculous healings.
A chapel was built on the place of the oak, and an annual procession developed to that spot. Oak and chapel were removed in 1649, but a new chapel (view of the interior pictured) was erected in 1854, on the foundations of the old one. The original statue resides in St. Peter’s, but a replica remains at the chapel. Some 250,000 pilgrims and visitors find their way to Mary of the Holy Oak every year.
Photo credit:  Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed,  Parish of St. Peter, Oirschot
In 1946 the archbishop of Utrecht became the first resident cardinal in the Netherlands since the Reformation. But Cardinal Jan de Jong need not have been the first.
Historical research indicates that in 1911 Pope Saint Pius X had his eyes on Archbishop Henricus van de Wetering as the first Dutch cardinal of modern times. But the publication of his encyclical Editae saepe, a year earlier, made that rather difficult, as that encyclical on Saint Charles Borromeo brought forth the fury of Queen Wilhelmina, who was less then pleased with the strong anti-Protestant language in the papal publication.
Making Archbishop van de Wetering, who headed the Archdiocese of Utrecht from 1895 to 1929, a cardinal would unnecessarily antagonise the queen and perhaps increase the anti-Catholic tendencies existing in Dutch society at that time.
Instead, Pius X went for a safer option: a Dutch cardinal, but one who was working in the Curia, on the Commission for the Codification of Canon Law and as general consultor of the Redemptorist order: Willem Marinus van Rossum.
After Cardinal de Jong, every archbishop of Utrecht was created a cardinal, if he wasn’t one already, such as Cardinal Willebrands.
Photo credit: Katholiek Documentatie Centrum, Nijmegen
Although it had long been expected, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands today announced that she intends to abdicate in favour of her son, who will become King William Alexander, on 30 April. Her Majesty announced so herself in a prerecorded television broadcast. And with the new king, we will also get a new queen, and she is Catholic.
Princess Máxima hails from Catholic Argentina and still seems to be practising her faith. Although she will not be head of state, she will be the first Catholic monarch in the Netherlands, member of a royal house which rose to prominence in the fight against Spanish Catholic rulers.
In reality this will not mean a whole lot. As consort of the king, Queen Máxima has no political power, nor will there be any measures that need to be taken to satisfy constitutional demands. Those that did exist were tackled when the royal couple married in 2002.
The one question that remains is whether there will be a Catholic contribution to the investiture. Although Protestant, the royal family has for years had close personal contacts with former Catholic priest Huub Oosterhuis, who still sometimes pretends to be Catholic. But what religious form the investiture will take remains to be seen. We can, however, be sure that there will be protests at the mentioning of God in the oath that the king (“by the grace of God”) will be taking…
Photo credit: Erwin Olaf
Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella looks back on the first 100 days of the Year of Faith:
“The first reactions revealed great enthusiasm and deep interest, tangible in the flurry of expressions of it on a small scale: in many pastoral letters – written by bishops to their dioceses – that in the programme are all dedicated to faith; in the parish projects for reflection on the various articles of the Creed; and in the widespread dissemination of the official logo of the Year of Faith. The logo shows a boat, a symbol of the Church, in a square bordered field with a boat that is sailing. The main mast of the boat is a cross on which are hoisted sails composing the trigram of Christ (IHS). The words “Year of Faith” that accompany it, alongside the calendar of “great events”, are translated into the major languages, but also into other languages, even Chinese. The Year of Faith has reached China where it is present in the communities and in the Churches which are likewise living this experience of the universal Church. This was mentioned to the Holy Father during the Roman Curia’s Audience for the exchange of Christmas greetings. And the Pope not only showed his great pleasure but he also told me that Protestant communities had shown interest too. In short, the whole world is in a state of great ferment, and I would say that we have got off on the right foot.”
An optimistic sound, although the enthusiasm and attention in the Catholic media has understandably died down after the spectacle of the Year’s opening. But that’s no reason to ignore the fact that we still have the major part of the Year of Faith ahead of us. What are you doing with it? That’s the question we must ask ourselves.
The Year of Faith is a twofold invitation: to increase and deepen our own faith, and to communicate it to others.
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
In 2009 I had the privilege of being a guest at the Maranatha church in Tilburg, Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. This church is the home of the student chaplaincy in that city and as such hosts the activities of several student bodies. A priest is appointed for the pastoral care of students and staff of nearby Tilburg University.
The students and priest during my visit were perfectly hospitable to me and the other guests. There was food, there was conversation, there was interest in one another. There was only one problem. Only after my visit had concluded did I realise I had in fact been in a Catholic church.
While merriment and nourishment that was on offer are not alien to Catholics (on the contrary), there was little else to indicate the Catholic identity of church and even the priest. The interior of the church, picture at left, was a rectangular space marked by bare stone, concrete and bricks. There was an altar table of sorts, but no visible tabernacle, or any other indication of the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The priest, Fr. Hub Lenders, was dressed in his casuals, perfectly fine for the warm summer weather of that day, but perfectly unsuitable to indicate the fact that he was a priest and as such available for pastoral care and distributing the sacraments. If I was told he was the caretaker of the church, I would have also believed it.
This is a situation which is, sadly, not unique to the Maranatha church. There is still a major lack of identity in many Dutch churches and priests. And the results are easily understood, and in evidence at the Maranatha church: the Catholic identity is watered down in order to befit communion with the local Protestant communities. Ecumenical services in which a cracker is shared with anyone who wants to, whether they are Catholic or even religious or not, and the condoning of same-sex relations, abortion, euthanasia and many other things which society promotes, but which are at odds with Catholic teaching, were the result. For many of the students and staff attending services at the church there was virtually no clear difference between Catholic and Protestant, religious and irreligious. The message being communicated was that the only thing that matters was goodwill. While there are always exceptions, I do think this was generally the rule.
But the diocese is finally ready to change things, using the retirement of Fr. Lenders as an excuse. It has appointed Fr. Michiel Peeters (picture at right) as his successor; a young priest with experience abroad and also a Dutch blogger at the critical and active blog Voorhof.net. While Fr. Peeters intends the maintain the church community’s ‘living room’ atmosphere, he is also tasked with bringing it back in line with the diocese and the world Church and her teachings and faith. This requires an accurate presentation and communication of what that faith is. Ecumenical ‘table prayers’ are out, a proper licit Mass in is.
Of course there are protests, as there usually always are when things change ofter a long time. And now, like often, these protests flow from a lack of knowledge about the faith of the Church and an almost Protestant understanding of what faith and church are. And while we share much with our Protestant brothers and sisters, this is not one of those things.
For the students of Tilburg and the Maranatha church this means a renewed introduction to the Catholic faith and the Catholic understanding of what the Church is: in the first place sacramental and educational, and from that flows her outreach to the world, Catholic or not.
Photo credit:  Baasjochem/Flickr,  Peter de Koning/Brabants Centrum
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
Most readers, even those who, like me, don’t follow politics too closely, will have noticed that there is a new president in France. François Hollande, who indeed has Dutch forebears, does not only win the highest political office in the country, but also a whole raft of religious titles and privileges, as the Belgian Church news website Kerknet reports, taking information from French newspaper ‘La Croix’. France is often said to be the ‘eldest daughter of the Church’ and that has consequences, although mostly ceremonial, even for an agnostic president.
The most important title, which the president inherits from the French monarchs, is that of honorary canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome. King Louis XI first received this title in 1482, and it was reinstated when King Henry IV renounced Protestantism and donated the Benedictine monastery of Clairac (and all its income) to the basilica in 1064. Since 1957, the title is given automatically to all French heads of state. President Hollande can also use the title of proto-dean of the cathedral of Embrun and of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Cléry near Orléans, and that of honorary dean of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in Savoie. He is also automatically honorary dean of Saint-Hilaire in Poitiers, Saint-Julien in Mans, Saint-Martin in Tours, Saint-Maurice d’Angers, Saint-Jean in Lyon, Saint-Étienne in Cahors and Saint-Germain des Prés in Paris.
Politically, the French president is head of state of Andorra, a position he shares with the bishop of the Spanish Diocese of Urgell, Archbishop Joan Enric Vives i Sicília.
Lastly, the president of France can give the red cardinal’s hat to the Papal Nuncio in Paris, if the latter is created a cardinal. That happened, for example, in 1953 with Cardinal Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) and in 1959 with Cardinal Paolo Marella (later the archpriest of St. Peter’s and vice-dean of the College of Cardinals). That won’t be happening anymore, though, since new cardinals generally receive their hat from the pope directly. But, in theory, it is still an option.
It just goes to show that the separation of church and state isn’t always simple.
Photo credit: Jean-Marc Ayrault/Wikipedia/Flickr