Five big names to investigate Ireland

The Vatican announced today that the apostolic visitation of certain dioceses, seminaries and religious congregations in Ireland will commence this autumn. Pope Benedict XVI had announced this visitation earlier in his letter to the Catholics of Ireland. And he is not sending the least to do the actual investigation into how the highest ranks of the Irish Church behaved when faced with sexual abuse under their jurisdiction.

The four metropolitan archdioceses of Ireland – Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Emly, and Tuam – are first on the list. Each of the archdioceses has a principal visitor named. To Armagh will go Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, emeritus archbishop of Westminster. To Dublin Sean Patrick Cardinal O’Malley of Boston. To Cashel and Emly Archbishop Thomas Christopher Collins of Toronto, and to Tuam Archbishop Terrence Thomas Prendergast of Ottawa. Furthermore, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York is named the apostolic visitor to the seminaries and houses of formation, including the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.

A group of five heavy-hitters, mostly from the new world, some experienced (Cardinals Murphy-O’Connor and O’Malley) some very much up and coming (Archbishop Dolan) and some experienced mediamen (Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Prendergast are both active bloggers, for example).

Of their goals, the press release says:

“Through this visitation, the Holy See intends to offer assistance to the bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful as they seek to respond adequately to the situation caused by the tragic cases of abuse perpetrated by priests and religious upon minors. It is also intended to contribute to the desired spiritual and moral renewal that is already being vigorously pursued by the Church in Ireland.

“The apostolic visitors will set out to explore more deeply questions concerning the handling of cases of abuse and the assistance owed to the victims; they will monitor the effectiveness of and seek possible improvements to the current procedures for preventing abuse, taking as their points of reference the Pontifical ‘Motu Proprio’ ‘Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela’ and the norms contained in ‘Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland’, commissioned and produced by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.”

Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor
Sean Cardinal O'Malley
Archbishop Thomas Collins
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast
Archbishop Timothy Dolan

Rumours of a new bishop for Namur

Msgr. Rémy Vancottem, to be the new ordinary bishop of Namur

At Dutch Catholic news website Rorate I read an announcement that a new bishop has been announced for the Belgian Diocese of Namur. Of course, said website offers no sources or links to other websites, and merely states that the official announcement will be made at noon today. One can only guess where. I have been unable to find any confirmation of it on the official websites of the Church in Belgium. It’s quite annoying that a website like Rorate, which presents itself as a news source, limits itself to just stating such bare facts (if they are facts). I would have liked a bit more information, if only to find out where I can read or see the noon announcement.

Anyway, if true, it is of course welcome news for Namur, which has been vacant since Bishop André-Mutien Léonard became Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard if Malines-Brussels in January of this year. Namur has been headed by a diocesan administrator, Msgr. Jean-Marie Huet, since then. The diocese also has an Auxiliary Bishop, Msgr. Pierre Warin. Either of them could be appointed as the new diocesan bishop, or the choice could be for any other cleric from within or without the diocese. It will be interesting to see who it is and how he will compare to Msgr. Léonard.

Anyway, more at noon today.

EDIT: Well, it’s past noon, and the name is known. The new bishop of Namur will be Msgr. Remy Vancottem, until now Auxiliary Bishop for Brabant Wallon in the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels. For the archdiocese this appointment means that there are now two vacant auxiliary sees instead available: a mere relocation of the problem. Belgium is still expecting two more new bishops: an ordinary for Bruges and now two new auxiliaries for Malines-Brussels.

I’ll devote a proper blog post to Bishop Vancottem tonight.

Religion just a choice?

This morning I was browsing through one of those free newspapers you find at bus and train stations, and I came across a letter sent in by a reader. Said reader fulminated against protests lodged by political party SGP about the use of the lyrics of the Green Day song ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ in a secondary school exam. The SGP complained about those lyrics because they perceived them to be anti-Christian. That by way of providing context. The writer of the letter wrote that people of faith shouldn’t complain, because religion is ‘just a choice’ and ‘they shouldn’t bother other people with it’.

For the record, I don’t agree with the SGP position on this. But I also don’t agree with the letter writer. Religion or faith can’t be limited to ‘just a choice’, as if it is the same as the choice of what colour socks I’m going to wear on a given day. Because that is all that the word ‘choice’ entails: a conscious decision to do something or other some certain way.

When I look back at the road I’ve travelled in the past years, I can say it did start with a choice: not the choice of being Christian or not, but rather the choice of going to see what Mass was and to talk about it with people. From there it quickly developed into something far greater. My decision to let myself be baptised came from a growing conviction that it was the right thing to do: it was not about what I would like, but about what I thought I’d need. I said yes to that sacrament because I had grown to believe that it was something I needed to do to be able to live my life to the fullest.

In that way the ‘choice’ became the foundation to my entire life. It is far more than something that merely appeals to me; it is the framework, reference and source of who I try to be and do.

Saying then that religion is ‘just a choice’ completely misses the point. When I see, read or hear something that is an insult to my faith, it is also an insult to me, and I should be allowed to ‘bother others with it’. That is simply an element of human social conduct, and a tool that society uses to maintain cohesion: there are lines that must be drawn, otherwise society becomes a shapeless chaotic mass. Calling others out for their statements not only protects me from future insults, it also points others to the effects of what they’re saying.  And hopefully we can all learn from that.

The lyrics of the Green Day song, although making heavy use of religious imagery, are not an insult, but it’s easy to see how a superficial glance at the words may lead some to conclude otherwise.

An ecumenical Corpus Christi?

On the 6th of June, the Sunday after the feast of Corpus Christi (this year on 3 June), the annual Corpus Christi will again be held on Amsterdam. According to Msgr. Willem Schnell, the rector of the Our Lady Church from which the procession starts, this specific procession is unique among Corpus Christi processions because of its ecumenical nature. Representatives from the Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian Churches have already participated in the past, and this year they will be joined by a Serbian Orthodox delegation. The major thing these various faith Churches have in common is their belief in the Eucharist as the actual Body and Blood and Jesus Christ.

According to Msgr. Schnell, procession are a well-known element of Catholic life, but virtually unknown among the Orthodox. That makes it even more exceptional that they are joining in this procession.

In Amsterdam, Bishop Jos Punt and his Auxiliary Bishop Jan van Burgsteden will be carrying a consecrated host, forming the core of the procession. They will be joined by Archbishop François Bacquè, the nuncio to the Netherlands, and Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Polycarpos Augin Aydin, whose community also uses the Our Lady Church.

In a period where relations between Rome and Moscow/Constantinople are steadily warming up (albeit with some bumps in the road), this is a nice little extra. On the local level, Catholic and Orthodox faithful find each other and discover they share a lot. A hopeful sign.

A photo from the procession in 2007: Bishop Punt carries the Blessed Sacrament. Behind him, at right, are visible the nuncio, Archbishop Bacqué, and Greek Orthdox Bishop Maximos, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinopel.


Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation

Apparently there are some lyrical changes to be made to the beautiful hymn Adoro te devote. That is what Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university explains in Zenit.

The Adoro te devote is a Eucharistic hymn which directly refers to the Eucharistic lord. It is usually prayed or sung in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament or in thanksgiving to having received Him.

The changes are limited to the first two verses:

The first verse goes as follows: “Adóro te devóte, latens Déitas, quae sub his figúris vere látitas: tibi se cor meum totum súbicit, quia te contémplans totum déficit.” The alternative version would be: “Adóro devóte latens véritas / Te quae sub his formis vere látitas …”

And in the second verse: “Visus, tactus, gustus in te fállitur, sed audítu solo tuto créditur. Credo quidquid dixit Dei Fílius; nil hoc verbo veritátis vérius”  becomes “Visus, tactus, gustus in te fállitur, sed solus audítus tute créditur. Credo quidquid dixit Dei Fílius; nihil Veritátis verbo vérius.”

Fr. McNamara goes on the explain the differences and their theological meaning, but concludes that both versions are equally valid for use. Check the piece in Zenit for his further comments.

Perhaps even more interesting to me, as a former student of English literature, is the reference to an English translation of the Adoro te devote by none other than Gerard Manley Hopkins, perhaps the most interesting Victorian poet (and a Jesuit priest). Titled Lost, All Lost In Wonder, it can be sung to the same melody as St. Thomas Aquinas’ original.

Lost, All Lost In Wonder

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran—
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight. Amen.

Twelve new men of God

On Saturday 29 May a total of 12 men in four dioceses will be ordained to the priesthood. They all have their stories and backgrounds. Some were born and raised in Catholic families, some in Protestant ones. Some have gone through atheist phases. They have been teachers, bank employees, salesmen, and one has even lived his life as a Protestant minister and now, aged 80, he will join the ranks of Christ’s priests. From these different backgrounds they have all heard God’s voice calling them to serve Him in His Church, and they have said ‘yes’. 

I will attend the ordination of Deacons Anton ten Klooster and Wouter de Paepe in Utrecht, and perhaps I’ll be able to share some photos here later. 

In the mean time, the two aforementioned deacons, as well as Deacons Hans van der Donk, Theo Lamers, Jacques Grubben, Francis De Meyer (all Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch), Ignas van Rosmalen, Patrick Lipsch (Diocese of Roermond), Pawel Banaszak, Elroy Kaak, Hans Schouten and Bruno Sestito (Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam) will benefit from our prayer as they prepare for the day of their lives. 

Future priests: Hans van der Donk, Theo Lamers, Jacques Grubben and Francis De Meyer.


O Jesus, eternal Priest,
keep your priests within the shelter of Your Sacred Heart,
where none may touch them.

Keep unstained their anointed hands,
which daily touch Your Sacred Body.

Keep unsullied their lips,
daily purpled with your Precious Blood.

Keep pure and unearthly their hearts,
sealed with the sublime mark of the priesthood.

Let Your holy love surround them and
shield them from the world’s contagion.

Bless their labors with abundant fruit and
may the souls to whom they minister be their joy and consolation here and in heaven their beautiful and everlasting crown. Amen.

St. Therese of Lisieux

St. Joseph cathedral turns 123 today

123 years ago today, on 25 May 1887, the church of St. Joseph was consecrated by Msgr. Pieter Snickers, the Archbishop of Utrecht. At the time, Groningen was part of his archdiocese. The church was built for the people of the then newly built Oosterpoort area of the city, where mainly working class families lived. Hence the choice of St. Joseph the Worker as patron of the church.

Over the course of the years the interior of the church developed into what we know today: stained-glass windows, rich colours and beautiful altar pieces. In 1974 the St. Joseph church became a national monument and in 1980 it became the cathedral of the Diocese of Groningen, which had been created from the Archdiocese of Utrecht in 1955. Originally, the cathedral had been the St. Martin across from the Academy building of the university – now the site of the University library – but that was ultimately sold and demolished.

The cathedral is a design by renowned architect Pierre Cuypers, also responsible for many other churches, as well as the train stations in Groningen and Amsterdam, and also the Rijksmuseum.

On the date of a church’s consecration we celebrate the fact that we not only have a physical building to celebrate the Eucharist and other sacraments in, but also that Christ established His Church for His people, and that we are part of it.


When Pentecost day came round, they had all met together, when suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of a violent wind which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and there appeared to them tongues as of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak different languages as the Spirit gave them power to express themselves.

Now there were devout men living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven, and at this sound they all assembled, and each one was bewildered to hear these men speaking his own language. They were amazed and astonished. ‘Surely,’ they said, ‘all these men speaking are Galileans? How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; people from Mesopotamia, Judaea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya round Cyrene; residents of Rome — Jews and proselytes alike — Cretans and Arabs, we hear them preaching in our own language about the marvels of God.’

Everyone was amazed and perplexed; they asked one another what it all meant. Some, however, laughed it off. ‘They have been drinking too much new wine,’ they said.

Acts of the Apostles 2: 1-13

Pentecost fresco in the abbey church of Aldersbach, by Kosmas Damian Asam (post-1720)

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven and addressed them in a loud voice: ‘Men of Judaea, and all you who live in Jerusalem, make no mistake about this, but listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you imagine; why, it is only the third hour of the day. On the contrary, this is what the prophet was saying: In the last days — the Lord declares — I shall pour out my Spirit on all humanity. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young people shall see visions, your old people dream dreams. Even on the slaves, men and women, shall I pour out my Spirit. I will show portents in the sky above and signs on the earth below. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the day of the Lord comes, that great and terrible Day. And all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
‘Men of Israel, listen to what I am going to say: Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God by the miracles and portents and signs that God worked through him when he was among you, as you know. This man, who was put into your power by the deliberate intention and foreknowledge of God, you took and had crucified and killed by men outside the Law. But God raised him to life, freeing him from the pangs of Hades; for it was impossible for him to be held in its power since, as David says of him: I kept the Lord before my sight always, for with him at my right hand nothing can shake me. So my heart rejoiced my tongue delighted; my body, too, will rest secure, for you will not abandon me to Hades or allow your holy one to see corruption. You have taught me the way of life, you will fill me with joy in your presence.
‘Brothers, no one can deny that the patriarch David himself is dead and buried: his tomb is still with us. But since he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn him an oath to make one of his descendants succeed him on the throne, he spoke with foreknowledge about the resurrection of the Christ: he is the one who was not abandoned to Hades, and whose body did not see corruption. God raised this man Jesus to life, and of that we are all witnesses. Now raised to the heights by God’s right hand, he has received from the Father the Holy Spirit, who was promised, and what you see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit. For David himself never went up to heaven, but yet he said: The Lord declared to my Lord, take your seat at my right hand, till I have made your enemies your footstool.
‘For this reason the whole House of Israel can be certain that the Lord and Christ whom God has made is this Jesus whom you crucified.’
Hearing this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘What are we to do, brothers?’
‘You must repent,’ Peter answered, ‘and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise that was made is for you and your children, and for all those who are far away, for all those whom the Lord our God is calling to himself.’ He spoke to them for a long time using many other arguments, and he urged them, ‘Save yourselves from this perverse generation.’
They accepted what he said and were baptised. That very day about three thousand were added to their number. These remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. And everyone was filled with awe; the apostles worked many signs and miracles. And all who shared the faith owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and distributed the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed. Each day, with one heart, they regularly went to the Temple but met in their houses for the breaking of bread; they shared their food gladly and generously; they praised God and were looked up to by everyone. Day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved.

Acts of the Apostles 2: 14-47

St, Peter Preaching at Pentecost, by Benjamin West (1738-1820)

DIY liturgy

Yesterday I had the pleasure of serving at a wedding Mass. It was the first time for to even attend a wedding Mass, let alone be a server at one. The soon-to-be-weds had brought their own priest, as far I understood a friend of the family.

When introducing myself to him and discussing some points of the Mass, he seemed surprised that there would be servers, but pleasantly surprised, and he asked me what our duties would be. Well, just the usual ones: preparing the altar, carrying the gifts, assisting with a few other things, and also the washing of the hands before the Consecration. “Oh, I never do that”, he replied. I nearly raised an eyebrow and asked him why on earth not? I didn’t though, merely mumbled something that we do do that here, and he seemed okay with that.

Anyway, that by way of introduction, because that little occurence led me to fear that the wedding Mass that the priest would celebrate would suffer from what I call a DIY liturgy. And that fear was confirmed. The experience was rather paradoxical for me: on the one hand the liturgy bothered me, and on the other hand the clear happiness of the bride and groom and their friends and family made me happy as well.

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder what lies at the root at this urge (if it is an urge) to adapt the liturgy to your own personal preferences. In this case the Mass was valid (the priest used a proper Eucharistic prayer and so on), but the introduction of extra prayer within the Eucharistic prayer, the involvement of the congregation in the various prayers of the priest, the priest’s apparent lack of awareness of certain rituals and their meaning, and, worst of all, the invitation to everyone who felt spiritually close to the bride and groom to receive Communion, led not only to a vague service (which is what the priest consistently called it instead of Eucharist or Mass) but also allowed a number of abuses to take place. I assisted the priest in giving Communion and I am certain that a number of non-Catholics received the Body of Christ from my hands. Maybe I am responsible for that or the priest is, I don’t know, but during the celebration of Mass I tend to defer to the priest: any disagreements and questions may be raised afterwards. So I gave Communion to those who presented themselves.

The liturgy of the Mass, with all its rules and rituals, is the product of a development of centuries. It has been codified numerous times, most recently following the Second Vatican Council. That codification has a reason: it unifies the celebration of the sacraments in the entire Church and so also its members. Being people of head and heart, the rituals, gestures, visuals et cetera, serves to provide us with a more exalted worship; Mass is not like sitting down with friends and have a chin wag: it is the communion with God, which deserves, even needs its own language. In the language and gestures of the liturgy we are exalted also, and so we are enabled to meet God, despite all our human failings. If the liturgy is brought down to us, we bring God down to us (an impossibility): the opposite of what He asks from us. Liturgy is also a teaching tool: the language, gestures and rituals show us who God is, that we are able to come into His presence despite the fact that He is so far out of our reach.

DIY liturgy is a dangerous business, but paradoxically an understandable one as well. Yesterday wedding Mass was an enormously joyous occasion for everyone involved, and I don’t begrudge anyone that. But the Mass barely transcended the level of a social gathering, but the couple did consciously choose to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony. The (subconscious) need to remove God as much as possible from the picture amazes me. In words we still acknowledge Him, but that is where we draw the line. It is as if we have become people of the head only: our heart and soul is not in it.