The Official Acts of the Holy See, and lots of them

A wealth of historical information has been made digitally available by the Vatican: the official Acts of the Holy See from 1865 to 2007. That covers the papacies of Popes Pius IX, Leo XII, Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as the unification of Italy, two Vatican Councils, the challenge of modernism, the publication of the first Code of Canon Law, two world wars, the creation of the Vatican City State and the cold war. A lot of topics which directly affected the Vatican and the Catholic Church and which resulted in many hundreds of pages of documents.

Browsing is not really useful with this collection, since the PDF files take while to load, due to their size. And it requires a working knowledge of Italian, but all the same: it’s a treasure chest of information.

Now to learn Italian…

A foretaste of Christmas in Lent

The Annunciation by Luca Giordano, 1672

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour! The Lord is with you.’
She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’
Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?’
The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. And I tell you this too: your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’
Mary said, ‘You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said.’ And the angel left her.
(Luke 1, 2-38)

Today, nine months before Christmas, we celebrate the Annunciation, the announcement to the Virgin mary that she would be the mother of God’s Son. This is how our salvation begins, in the simple faithful ‘yes’ of a young woman in a remote corner of the Roman Empire. Her faith in God Who grants her this great privilege is an example to us all. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the first among the followers of Christ, and the first intercessor for us with Christ.

Thoughts about celibacy

“Remaining unmarried and living celibate for the Kingdom of God is of great merit. It is part of religious life. With our vows of poverty, obedience and chastity we distance ourselves from our desire for possession, for doing things our own way and for a sexual life. These are natural and human desires, but we want to relativise them out of love for Christ, to fully dedicate ourselves to Him. This must however always be a free and personal choice.”

Wise words from Fr. Filip Noël, a Norbertine at Averbode Abbey in Belgium. Celibacy is often seen, both inside and outside the Church as something that is forced upon priests. But I am certain that a celibate life is doomed to failure if it is not the choice of the priest in question. A good formation during the years in seminary is vital, since celibacy is not a magic cure that will prevent the priest from ever falling in love or succumbing to temptation. No, a priest always remains fully human, of course. The key to celibacy is not avoiding these very human desires and urges, but learning how to integrate them in your priestly life. There are no guarantees of success, but it is a vital part of the priestly identity.

The priesthood is not a nine-to-five job which you can step out of at the end of the working day. No, during ordination, the very identity of the priest is changed. No longer is he just a man among other people: he is now a priest for them, while at the same a Christian with them, to paraphrase St. Augustine. He is called to act in persona Christi during the liturgy and the ministering of the sacraments. It is something that changes every element of his life. Besides a sacrifice given freely and willingly to God, celibacy can be an aid in living that life, confirming the priestly identity as being different from that of other men.

The above quote by Father Noël comes from an article in Belgian weekly Tertio, which looks at the question of how sensible celibacy is. Fr. Noël speaks partly against it, taking a somewhat double position: he doesn’t deny the value of celibacy, but suggests it should be subject to the demands of daily life. “In eastern Christianity the choice between a celibate and non-celibate priesthood remained. And that seems to function quite well,” he says. And, “There are also married priests within the Roman Catholic Church, namely in the eastern rites. Why should all the benefits of celibacy not count for them?”

In my opinion, Fr. Noël reduces celibacy to a simplistic balance between advantages and disadvantages. There is no doubt that, in theory, married priests can function just as well as priests who are celibate. Does that mean that celibacy has lost its value? Of course not. Celibacy is not a dogma, it is not a deciding factor of the Catholic faith. Over the centuries it has grown out of necessity, only then revealing its nature as a sacrifice and a means to show a priest’s dedication to the Church of Christ. Simply saying that non-celibate priests also function well is a negative comparison; it looks at the characteristics that celibacy does not have to say something about what it is. It would be better to do the same comparison based on the characteristics that celibacy does have: not saying what celibacy deprives priests of, but what it adds.

Luckily, Fr. Noël is aware of the downsides of the non-celibate life: “The Protestant tradition has done away with all forms of religious life. But when the clergy consists almost totally out of married men, like in the Anglican church, there is a risk of ‘standardisation’. The radicality expressed in celibate life, may work as a correction of the standardisation of the Church.” The Church does not belong to the world, after all (cf. John 17, 16).

Father Noël further talks about the problems of celibacy for seminarians. He say that he has seen many seminarians and young priests leave because of the problems they had with celibacy. I wonder if that is truly due to the nature of celibacy or to the formation and education they receive?

Celibacy is a free choice, but in order to make that free choice, a future priest must be fully aware of what he chooses. A thorough formation and education is vital for that. And then, if a man decides that celibacy is not for him, we can’t say that celibacy is intrinsically flawed. The only conclusion we can draw from that is that the person in question is not called to a celibate life. We can’t even say that the priesthood is not for him.

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