Sent out into the world for mercy

logoWednesday is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent (yes, it’s almost Lent already), and in this Holy Year of Mercy it is also the day of another notable event: the day on which more than one thousand special “missionaries of mercy” are sent out by the Pope into the world, to manifest God’s mercy in a specific way, by their ability to forgive the most grave of sins, which are usually beholden to bishops or the Pope alone.

Earlier, we already learned that all priests in the world have been given to authority to forgive the sin of abortion (normally residing with the bishop, all Dutch priests have had this faculty already). Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who is the chief organiser of the events of the Holy Year, outlines the five sins which can only be forgiven by the special missionaries of mercy. These are:

  • Desecration of the Eucharist
  • Breaking the seal of confession
  • Consecrating a bishop without papal approval
  • Sexual contacts by a priest and the person he has those contacts with
  • Violent actions against the Pope

Of course, some of these are more likely to happen than others, but they all touch upon the core values of our faith and Church: the sanctity of sacraments, the unity of the Church and the seriousness of vows and promises. By making the forgiveness for such sins more easily available, Pope Francis wants to emphasise that, even in such serious matters, mercy comes first (with the caveat that true mercy always incorporates justice).

12647487_441962256013964_8703646690579720740_n13 priests from the Netherlands and 33 from Belgium (11 from Flanders, 22 from Wallonia) will be appointed as missionaries of mercy. One of the Dutch priests is Fr. Johannes van Voorst, of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam (one of seven from that diocese; the other six come from the Diocese of Roermond). Fr. Johannes (seen above offering Mass at St. Paul Outside the Walls today) will be going to Rome to receive his mandate, together with some 700 of his brother priests (the remaining 350 or so will receive their mandate at home). His adventures in Rome can be followed via his Facebook page, where he also posts in English.

After receiving their mission, the names of the missionaries will be made known, so that they can be at the disposal of the faithful in the country.

“Ordered pluriformity” – Pope Francis explains the gifts of hierarchy and charism

Pope Francis received the participants of the plenary session of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in a private audience today. He also addressed them and, unsurprisingly in this Holy Year, his main topic was mercy. But there is more to his words than most would expect.

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^Pope Francis with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation, and, at left, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Archbishop of Valencia and one of the members of the congregation.

Too often, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is depicted as an opponent to Pope Francis and his attempts to reform the Curia and, especially, emphasise the importance of Christian mercy and mission in modern society. This stems from a perceived opposition between mercy (and, by extension, the practical application of faith and its consequences in society) and doctrine, as if the two are not complementary. We must show mercy, but we also need to know what that mercy is. It is the congregation’s duty to safeguard that, to ensure that what is being said and done in the name of the faith is indeed in agreement with that faith.

In his address, Pope Francis emphasised the complementarity between mercy and doctrine when he said,

“[H]ierarchical and charismatic gifts are called to collaborate in synergy for the good of the Church and of the world. The testimony of this complementarity is all the more urgent today and it represents an eloquent expression of that ordered pluri-formity that connotes all ecclesial fabric, as reflection of the harmonious communion that it lives in the heart of God, One and Triune.”

In other words, the Church and the world need both the gifts exhibited in the hierarchy, or that part of the Church which is called to teach, and those of the various charisms, the fruits of the Spirit which become visible in the faithful everywhere in the world. The Holy Father speaks of an “ordered pluriformity”, a term which in itself summarises this complementarity I referred to above. This complementarity, the Pope continues, is an expression of the essence of the Trinity.

Another important element that Pope Francis mentions, albeit in the context of synodality, is proper understanding. Instead of seeing mercy as “being nice” and doctyrine as “being mean”, we must make a proper endeavour to understand both, on their own and in relation to each other. There is no opposition, no fight between the two. Rather, the struggle must be about knowing, developing and displaying both, to come “to an ever more realized, deepened and dilated communion at the service of the life and mission of the People of God.”

For ecumenism, Pope Francis goes to Sweden

For the second time in history, the Pope will go to the Nordic countries. Well, a Nordic country. In 1989, Pope St. John Paul II was in Sweden for two days, visiting Stockholm, Uppsala, Vadstena and Linköping. This year, on 31 October, Pope Francis will go to Lund.

The surprising announcement was made today, but in hindsight it is impossible to not recall, in relation to this, the visit of the head of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, Archbishop Antje Jackelén, to Pope Francis in May of last year (pictured below). Undoubtedly, the papal visit was discussed then.

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The one-day visit, which is not an apostolic journey, or a regular papal visit to the faithful of a given country, will be to the ecumenical celebration of the Catholic Church in Sweden and the Lutheran World Federation to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which will take place in the Southern Swedish city of Lund, where the LWF was founded in 1947. Pope Francis will be leading this celebration together with the president and general secretary of the LWF. Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is also said to accompany the Holy Father. This service will be based on the recently-published Catholic-Lutheran liturgical guide, which proposes and formalises ways in which members of both communities can celebrate together.

Other elements of the visit are still to be announced. It will be Pope Francis’ fifth visit to a European country (not counting Italy), after Albania and France in 2014, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2015, and Poland in July of 2016.

Your blogger is definitely looking into a slim chance of travelling to Lund at that time, and report from there. Keep your eyes on the blog.

Clean feet -a more inclusive Easter liturgy?

So the Holy Father went and had the Congregation for Divine Worship decree a change in the liturgy. For most parishes, at least here in Western Europe, the change will be unnoticeable, as most have made it years or even decades ago. But does that mean it is a mere formality, a change on paper only?

foot washing, maundy thursday, cathedral

^ Footwashing at St. Joseph’s cathedral in Groningen, last year.

Since 1955, the footwashing is a notable part of the liturgy of Maundy Thursday. The priest washes the feet of twelve men, in imitation of Jesus Christ’s washing of the feet of His disciples. As the new decree underlines, the rite revolves around the servitude of all those who wish to follow Christ, who came, after all, not to be served, but to serve. In the Gospel of John we read the following:

“Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father, having loved those who were his in the world, loved them to the end.

They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from table, removed his outer garments and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘Never!’ said Peter. ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus replied, ‘If I do not wash you, you can have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said, ‘Well then, Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!’ Jesus said, ‘No one who has had a bath needs washing, such a person is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.’ He knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said, ‘though not all of you are’.

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’, he said, ‘what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you. In all truth I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, no messenger is greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know this, blessed are you if you behave accordingly.'”

The rite of the footwashing is in the first place exactly what Jesus tells us it is: an example for us to follow, in the context of the relation between servant and master. For the priest, who washes the feet of twelve faithful, this is especially poignant. As an alter Christus he is especially tasked to lead by serving, made tangible in this subservient act.

In the Roman missal the faithful whose feet are to be washed are described as ‘vir’, men. Although many priests have not felt called to limit the faithful they chose for the rite to be only men, others, who understand that the liturgy is not just a collection of symbolic rituals, have followed what the missal stipulates. Pope Francis has now removed the rule that only men’s feet are to be washed in the ritual, stating only that they must be chosen from among the People of God: the faithful community assembled for the liturgical ritual. So not only men, but also women and children.

Of course, the changes have been met with comments far and wide. Before delving into some of those, it should be noted that this is not an issue of dogma, and that the Holy Father is completely free to make such changes. There are those who are all too keen to take every chance to denounce Pope Francis, but this is not one. This is Papal authority in action.

I have seen some comments expressing surprise that there even are rules about such things, but also pride in having been ahead of the curve in including women in the footwashing. Apparently, those who know of what the missal stated, have not felt the urge to take it seriously and keep to the rubrics. I have to wonder what the liturgy is for some people: a collection of quaint rituals to be performed or not as mood or times dictate, or something given as a task to perform by the Church, a rite reflecting the divine liturgy, which can not be changed by individual priests or liturgy committees (a silly concept in itself) as they desire. It should be clear what my position is, which happens to be what the Church herself also teaches. I may like or dislike what the missal contains, but it is not mine to change. It is, however, the Pope’s to change (as long as the changes are not dogmatic). He has that authority.

Some have also chosen to see this change as having to do with a right that until now has been denied to women. It is not. As the decree explains, Pope Francis wanted this change to better reflect the full make-up of the People of God, who all share in this commandment of service: it is therefore not a right that until now has been denied to women, but a duty that they are equally called to perform. Pridefully boasting that this is an equal rights issue is simplistic and out of place.

On the other side of the debate, more conservative commentators have taken issue with the fact that a liturgical tradition has been altered. They say that the presence of only men at the footwashing is a reflection of the footwashing as performed by Jesus. He also only washed the feet of men: His disciples. In this way it better reflected the relation between Christ and His followers, and thus reminds the priest and faithful of what the priesthood is: a service in a context of authority. I have to wonder, however, of the ritual itself, even if it includes only men, succeeds in this. At least in my experience, catechesis makes more of a difference than the gender of those whose feet are washed. For most faithful present at the footwashing, the actual ritual is too short and too far away to be fully witnessed and taken in.

Others have wondered if this is really the most urgent liturgical change that was needed. Aren’t there liturgical abuses that need to be adressed first? Of course there are. I think of the complete lack of reference for or even understanding of Who we received in Holy Communion, to name but one. But a start needs to be made somewhere, and the fact that changs are made is more important than the order in which they take place.

In closing, I would like to comment on what some have wondered about the role of Cardinal Robert Sarah in this. As Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship he is the one who issued and signed the decree announcing the change. Pope Francis made the request for the change in late 2014. It took more than a year for the decree to be published. Did Cardinal Sarah delay it, because he disagreed with it? Or is it perhaps more likely that the cardinal, who had only arrived at the Congregation in November of 2014, needed the time first to familiarise himself with his new duties, had to clear a banklog of files which had built up in the three months between the departure of the previous Prefect, Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, and his own arrival? And add to that the fact that there are other files to deal with in the course of the normal work of the Congregation, and it seems that this is a more likely reason for the apparent delay than any alleged delaying actions out of a theoritical opposition to the Pope’s reforms.

 

Video first – Pope Francis asks for our prayer

Every month, the Pope has special prayer intentions that he asks us to pray for with him. In this Holy Year of Mercy, these intentions also play a part in obtaining the special indulgence which also includes entering through one of the Holy Doors in the world’s cathedrals and other Jubilee churches.

Also for this Holy Year, the monthly prayer intentions come in the form of special videos, with Pope Francis narrating and appealing to us all to pray with him for, in this case, the cause of interreligious dialogue.

To be honest, sharing this video is a bit like having the Pope as a special guest on my blog.

Coming and going – Looking ahead at 2016

A new year, so time for a look at what 2016 may bring in the field of new bishop appointments. As ever, reality may turn out different, but we may make some assumptions.

???????????????????????????????????In the Netherlands, to begin with, a new bishop will arrive in the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Bishop Antoon Hurkmans (right) has already has his resignation on health grounds accepted and it shouldn’t take more than a few more months for his successor in the country’s largest diocese (in numbers at least) to be named. Will it be current Auxiliary Bishop Rob Mutsaerts? Who’s  to say.

lehmannIn Germany, three prelates are expected to retire this year. First of all the long-serving Bishop of Mainz, Cardinal Karl Lehmann (left), who will reach the age of 80 in May. Losing his voting rights in the conclave and his memberships in the Curia, his retirement is expected to follow around the same time. The Diocese has already announced that Cardinal Lehmann will continue to live in his current home, while the former abode of Cardinal Volk, bishop of Mainz from 1962 to 1982. Cardinal Lehmann has headed Mainz since 1983.

14_03_GrotheIn Limburg we may finally expect the arrival of a new bishop. Administrator Bishop Manfred Grothe (right) will be 77 in April and has already retired as auxiliary bishop of Paderborn. In March, it will be two  years since Bishop Tebartz-van Elst was made to retire, and according to Bishop Grothe, the time is just about ready for his successor to be named.

3079_4_WeihbischofJaschke2013_Foto_ErbeIn the Archdiocese of Hamburg, the last auxiliary bishop, Hans-Jochen Jaschke (left) will reach the age of 75 in September. This may mean that Archbishop Stefan Heße will be requesting one or more new auxiliary bishops from Rome, either this or next year.

van looyIn Belgium then, Ghent’s Bishop Luc Van Looy (right) will turn 75 in September. The Salesian, who became president of Caritas Europe and was among Pope Francis’ personal choices to attend the Synod of Bishops last year, has been bishop of Ghent since 2003.

frans daneelsIn Rome, another Belgian bishop will reach the retirement age in April, Archbishop Frans Daneels (left), secretary of the Apostolic Signatura and a Norbertine priest, may return to Averbode Abbey in Belgium, where he made his profession in 1961.

There are also a number of vacant dioceses which we may assume to be filled in 2016. In Germany these are, in addition to the aforementioned Diocese of Limburg, Aachen, where Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff retired from in December, and Dresden-Meißen, vacant since Bishop Heiner Koch was appointed to Berlin in June.

vacant dioceses germany

^Map showing the three currently vacant dioceses in Germany. From left to right: Aachen, Limburg and Dresden-Meißen.

In Belgium, the Diocese of Bruges is vacant, following the appointment of Jozef De Kesel as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. The name of Bishop Léon Lemmens, auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels, has been mentioned as a successor in Bruges.

Two circumscriptions which have been vacant for  number of years, and which are expected to remain so for the foreseeable future, are the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim in Norway, vacant since 2009, and the Military Ordinariate of the Netherlands, vacant since 1993. Bishops Bernt Eidsvig of Oslo and Jozef Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam continue to act as Apostolic Administrators of the respective bodies.

The true spirit of the Holy Year of Mercy

12310548_731823440286073_6495785121618758678_nIn his homily during the Mass for the opening of the Holy Year of Mercy, today, it seemed clear that Pope Francis considers this Jubilee inextricably linked to the Second Vatican Council, which ended fifty years ago. He called  for the Church to once again take up the missionary that the Council called for in reaching out to the people of our time, and not to neglect the spirit which came forth from the Council, which is the spirit of the Samaritan. These are interesting comments, as the phrase “the spirit of Vatican II”, with good reason, continues to send shivers up more than a few spines.

It is good, therefore, to realise that Pope Francis’ is a different one than the one people have claimed to belong to the Council: the spirit which says that the liturgy is mostly about doing things, and which has led to all sorts of liturgical experimentation. That false spirit is a very limited one as it concerns itself only with what we do in our Church buildings, and generally only in the sanctuary for that matter. The spirit that Pope Francis names, the one of the Good Samaritan, has a far wider scope. It goes out into the world, helps people by bringing them to God, even if the road is long and the steps small. “Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel,” the Holy Father said.

Outreach, joy, Gospel. Three words that, in addition to mercy, obviously, should play a major role in this Holy Year. And not just in the big structures of the world Church, among the prelates and priests, but also, for the major part, in us, the faithful who profess faith in Jesus Christ, who want to follow Him in His Church.

I am the first to admit that this is not easy. It means, for most of us, a change in our behaviour and habits. It begins, I believe, with finding out what mercy is, by looking at the examples given by Jesus Christ. I intend to look into that over the course of the year, at irregular intervals in this blog.

May the Holy Doors, which, starting today, will open in many churches in the world, be an invitation to us to enter into God’s mercy, not only to receive it for ourselves, but especially to pass it on to others, in and outside the Church.

Photo credit: CNA