Holy Popes

With today’s canonisation of Popes Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II, the Church now recognises 80 out of 266 Popes as saints. Some think this is too many, and that Popes are being made saints too quickly or too automatically. Whatever the truth in that matter is, the history is interesting.

canonisation

Of the first 58 Popes, from St. Peter to St. Silverius, almost none escaped canonisation, although the process as we know it today did not exist yet. In general, the Church simply recognised an existing cult for a deceased Pope, making him known as a saint. The only exceptions in this five-century period are Pope Liberius (352-366), Pope Anastasius II (496-498), Pope Boniface II (530-532) and Pope John II (532-535).

In the following five centuries there are fewer saints among the Popes, as the process became more formalised, but still quite a lot: 19. Their frequency does decrease sharply towards the end: not a single ninth century Pope was canonised, while the previous century still had four.

For the second millennium, after the Holy See became the sole authority in the area of canonisation, it is actually very possible, without making this post excessively long, to list all papal saints:

  • St. Leo IX (1049-1054)
  • St. Gregory VII (1073-1085)
  • St. Celestine V (1294)
  • St. Pius V (1566-1572)
  • St. Pius  X (1903-1914)
  • St. John XXIII (1958-1963)
  • St. John Paul II (1978-2005)

The number of three canonised saints among the 20th century Popes is striking. The last time the Church had so many papal saints so close together in time was in the eighth century. But is it excessively much? Compared to the first 500 years of the papacy: absolutely not. Nor is it much when we compare it to the total number of people canonised by the nine Popes since 1900: 1501. Less then two-tenths of a percent of these were Popes. In the end, it’s all relative.

Saint of the year

So who’s your saint for the new year?

Blogger Jennifer Fulwiler’s Saints Name Generator has been quite popular in recent weeks. It is an easy tool to select a specific saint for basically any period of time, project or intention you’d care to mention. It is somewhat random, of course, by its very nature, but choosing a saint to ask to intercede for you is never a bad idea. This choice is not made effective by the tool, but by the prayer, but ours and theirs.

pennafort7-11The saint that was selected for me is Saint Raymond of Peñafort. In an almost eerie coincidence (or is it) his feast is in three days time. And in another example of debatable coincidence, I have written about this saint in the very early days of my blog. At that time I was still trying to find this blog’s focus, and I tried for a while to write weekly blog posts about a specific saint whose feast day fell in that week. For the first week of January, I chose… Saint Raymond of Peñafort.

SQPN’s Saints Page has the following information on him:

“Born to the Aragonian nobility. Educated at the cathedral school in Barcelona, Spain. Philosophy teacher around age 20. Priest. Graduated law school in Bologna, Italy. Joined the Dominicans in 1218. Summoned to Rome, Italy in 1230 by Pope Gregory IX. Assigned to collect all official letters of the popes since 1150. Raymond gathered and published five volumes, and helped write Church law.

Chosen master general of the Dominicans in 1238. Reviewed the Order‘s Rule, made sure everything was legally correct, then resigned his position in 1240 to dedicate himself to parish work. He was offered and archbishopric, but he declined, instead returning to Spain and the parish work he loved. His compassion helped many people return to God through Reconciliation.

During his years in Rome, Raymond heard of the difficulties missionaries faced trying to reach non-Christians of Northern Africa and Spain. Raymond started a school to teach the language and culture of the people to be evangelized. With Saint Thomas Aquinas, he wrote a booklet to explain the truths of faith in a way that non-believers could understand. His great influence on Church law led to his patronage of lawyers.”

A writer, philosopher, lawyer, teacher, evangeliser, and communicator. There are less suitable patron saints to think of for a Catholic blogger.

Questions and answers, No. 2

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.

eucharistThis 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?

betrayal-last-supperJesus 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?

altar_myhomeWell, 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.

Opening the Year of Faith in the Netherlands

It’s a week ago now, but I figured it would be nice to give an impression of how the Year of Faith was opened in the Netherlands. All dioceses marked the occasion with special Masses in either the cathedral or another major church in the diocese.

The Archdiocese of Utrecht played host to a national symposium on the four great Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council. Some 250 people attended, a number that could perhaps have been higher if the symposium wasn’t open to clergy and pastoral workers only.

The Mass which started off the symposium was offered by Wim Cardinal Eijk, the archbishop of Utrecht. In his homily he looked back at the fruits of the Council, but also the responses to it. The cardinal noted that, “On the one hand there are people who are disappointed, because the Council did not bring the fruits they had hoped for. And on the other hand there are people who make the reproach that the current crisis in the Church was caused by the Council.” He went on to say that both responses are unjust. The roots of secularisation were already laid well before the Council – as, for example, Blessed Titus Brandsma already noticed – and the discussion about celibacy and liturgy was already being held in the 1950s.

In Breda Bishop Jan Liesen, pictured at right during the symposium mentioned above, offered a Mass in the cathedral of St. Anthony. About the Year of Faith he said:

“The Year of Faith is a year in which to listen to God, to the spirit which has been poured out in our hearts. Put differently: our Church does not revolve around an organisation, but around a living person, Christ. The Gospels speak of how Jesus continuously presented people with the question, “Who do you say I am?” Other religions may have a book, a great way of life or something. We Christians do not have that, at least not as the heart of our faith: we have the person of Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Liesen also spoke about our spiritual life, which we need to nurture in order to be evangelisers ourselves.

“To make work of your spiritual life – how do you do that? It is a matter of choosing, really choosing. In our time we have somewhat forgotten what choosing is, maybe or probably because we have such material wealth. We can walk past shop windows in long shopping streets and pick what we like. We then think that we have made a choice, but we haven’t. We were looking for something and left much where it was and brought that one thing home, but that is not choosing. There comes a time when we don’t like what we have brought home anymore and then we’ll get something else. That is not choosing: it is merely the satisfaction of a desire, whether it is real or imaginary. Because of such a materialistic way of life, which is being promoted in all manners imaginable and which we should not underestimate or make illusions about when it concerns ourselves – because of that way of life we sometimes deal with people in the same way, and we drop them when they no longer suit us. But really choosing when it concerns a person means: choosing that one as he or she is and not dripping them to choose another. That is the basis of true friendship, that is the basis of marriage and family, and that is also the basis of spiritual life, of the conversation with God.”

The final topic that Bishop Liesen touched upon was the Eucharist. He re-emphasised the central place that that sacrament has in our faith, and his desire (and presumably intention as well) to cut down the number of Communion service in his diocese. These services have, in many places, become more of a habit  and a celebration of the community instead of a necessity when there is no priest available, and water down the valuable role of the Eucharist in our lives.

In the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, the Year of Faith was opened at the shrine of Our Lady of Need in Heiloo. In his homily, auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks spoke about faith, saying:

“Faith is a mercy and we can be grateful that we have received that mercy.

Faith requires surrender, giving up control, confidence that you are safe in the loving care of a heavenly Father, that everything will turn out alright, no matter how many setbacks and suffering you may find on your way.

No matter how much evil and how many problems there are: because of faith our life is an ascent to God. Without faith it would be nothing but decomposition, descent, a pointless event with a sad ending.

Faith also requires humility, because it entails us bowing down for a higher power, for someone who can dictate the law to you.

Our Catholic faith lets us know Jesus, our Saviour and Lord. It lets us understand the Holy Spirit, who resides in our hearts and gently leads us to the heavenly Father, who is source and purpose of all of creation.

Through our Catholic faith we also got to know and venerate Mary, who is our Mother through Jesus, as an example of faith, as intercessor and mediator.”

And about evangelisation, he added:

“Whatever we do in the Church, we must first be Christians.

Every priest, every believer must first be a Christian.

The work that we do in the Church can’t be an exterior job, but an expression of our love for Christ, expression of our faith.”

Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, who opened the Year of Faith in the cathedral basilica of St. John in Den Bosch, spoke about having faith in our time:

“Today every faithful is individually faced with a great challenge. The Second Vatican Council already foresaw this. This Council was intended to bring the Church up to date, a way of returning to the source. It again placed Holy Scripture at the heart. It looked for the vital sources of the Church of the future in the young Church of the Church Fathers. You and I, we are confronted with an increasingly secularised world. We shouldn’t want to walk away from that. We should be strong by resisting the difficulties of this time and witness of our faith in the world of today, with the sources of the Council. There are numerous difficulties. The Church in our part of the world grows smaller, we must dispose of church buildings. It’ll be increasingly difficult to pass on the faith to future generations. Acting according to the faith in marriage, in celibacy, in politics is increasingly at odds with what’s going on in society. What matters now is to believe or not: to entrust yourself to God. To travel the way with Him. When you have faith, confess this faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit openly. God will take care of you. He will give you life. Confess your faith in the Church. Do not stay alone. Participate, as the Council asks, in the life of the Church. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s life. Be there, every Sunday. Immerse yourself in the liturgy, in Holy Scripture and never forget to serve the poor. Faith must be expressed in action.”

In Roermond Bishop Frans Wiertz referred to the collection of ten local Saints and Blesseds, from 4th-century St. Servatius to St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, who was killed in Auschwitz in 1942, who were gathered in the cathedral of St. Christopher as examples of the faith. The bishop said about this:

“We are gathered here as faithful from all directions of our local Church. And we are not alone, but in the presence of a number of prominent blesseds and saints from our area, men and women who represent the faith of many centuries, who represent all those people who preceded us in the faith.”

In the Diocese of Rotterdam, Bishop Hans van den Hende opened the Year of Faith in the Basilica of St. Liduina and Our Lady of the Rosary in Schiedam. In his homily he discussed Pope Benedict’s Apostolic letter Porta Fidei, in which the Holy Father announced the Year of Faith, and on the Second Vatican Council, but also on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law. Summarising the Year of Faith, the bishops said:

“The Year of Faith, brothers and sisters, regards all aspects of our life in faith. To confess that God exists, that His Son became men, that the Holy Spirit always wants to inspire us. To celebrate our faith in the Eucharist and the other sacraments and to be careful with the Words of Scripture. We do so as true listeners to the message of God and also by truly living as Christians and to be recognisable in our words and actions as friends of the Lords, and fourth, to keep up the conversation with the Lord.”

In Groningen, Bishop Gerard de Korte also opened the Year of Faith, with a Mass at the cathedral of St. Joseph, but the text of his homily is sadly not available online.

Photo credit: [1], [2] Ramon Mangold, [5] Peter van Mulken

The return of Saint Oda

There are many saints. And by many, I do main a lot. Such a lot, in fact, that the Church has a hierarchy of saints to decide which saint’s feast day has precedence on any given day. Last Sunday, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist took precedence over everything else, for example.

At the Second Vatican Council, this hierarchy was adapted. Some saints had their feast days changed, and others lost theirs completely as their veneration was suppressed at various levels. Some saints, which in the past were venerated worldwide, are now only marked locally. Many early saints, who lived in the first centuries of Christianity, underwent this fate. Among them, many Dutch saints who had local importance, but had left no tangible mark in the larger scheme of things. One of these is Saint Oda.

The 8th-century saint, who lived as a hermit at what is now the village of Sint-Oedenrode in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, gives her name to the parish which was established in 2010, and as a consequence, Bishop Antoon Hurkmans has asked the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints to reinstate her feast on the liturgical calendar. That request has now been granted. Her reinstated feast day will be on the 27th of November.

As the notification reads, “once holy, always holy”, Saint Oda’s sanctity has never been abrogated, but her veneration merely limited. Those limitations have now been removed so that the faithful of St. Oda’s parish can now mark their patron saint’s feast day again. Whether or not her veneration has been returned to universal status is unknown, but, to be honest, unlikely. The request from the bishop has been of a local nature, so it would make sense that St. Oda’s veneration is now reinstated for the diocese alone.

A new altar for Saint Joseph

Yesterday evening I attended an ordination. Although it wasn’t a person being ordained, and it wasn’t actually called an ordination, the Mass had the basic structure of a priestly ordination. The bishop did the honours, we prayed the Litany of All Saints, there was anointing and a first Mass. What ‘got ‘ordained’ then? A new people’s altar.

Together with a new ambo, it was a gift from the parish council to the parish on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the consecration of our cathedral, St. Joseph’s. The new altar replaces a fairly simple but heavy wooden table. This one is smaller and therefore makes the entire sanctuary appear bigger. With its flat stone surface and legs crafted into the symbols of the four evangelists, it matches the rest of the sanctuary well. The only distractions are the two candle holders. Blue appears nowhere else in the sanctuary, and although the candles are nice and big, there should be six of them. A minor complaint about an otherwise nice altar.

The smaller size of the new altar means that the number of concelebrants is practically limited. In yesterday’s Mass, the bishop concelebrated with his vicar general and the cathedral administrator, and other members of the cathedral chapter were attending in choir. It certainly makes the sanctuary look less crowded.

Why such an elaborate ceremony for what is, essentially, a piece of furniture, though? It shouldn’t be a surprise that in a Church, nothing is just a piece of furniture, especially when it’s in the sanctuary. That altar, in fact, is one of the most important elements in a church, perhaps second only to the tabernacle. It is where Christ becomes present for us, where His sacrifice and resurrection are made present again for us, from where we receive Him in communion. Everything we do, have and know in our faith comes from there. That is why a new altar needs to be changed from just a piece of furniture into a sacramental. It needs to be prepare for its holy service.

That is why it is anointed., which may be seen in the photo below: Bishop de Korte is anointing the surface of the altar. That is why we pray for the intercession of all the saints, just as we do when a man is ordained to the priesthood. Our prayers will aid in receiving and benefitting from what we receive from the altar. In the surface of the altar, relics are embedded, as an altar exists in connection with the graves of the martyrs and, eventually, with the altars that Abel, Noah, Abraham and other Old Testament Fathers erected. The consecration of an altar is also a public act, since the use of the altar is public: it will allow the community of faithful to receive the Eucharist, and thus be united in faith.

The altar is no longer just a piece of furniture. It is a tool towards our salvation.

“Magnificent” and “inspiring” – small San Callisto welcomes Cardinal Eijk

A short bit of footage without much sound (to be found at the end of this post), courtesy of RKK, and a report on the Archdiocesan website are among the few news items concerning Cardinal Eijk’s taking possession of his title church in Rome, Last Thursday. There is also a photo report available here.

The small church of San Callisto was completely filled and the congregation included a large number of journalists. Cardinal Eijk called his reception “heartwarming”. Assistant Papal master of cermeonies Msgr. Konrad Krajewski presented and read out the papal bull granting the title church to Cardinal Eijk at the start of Mass. It was subsequently signed afterwards. The arrival of its new cardinal protector, prompted the caretakers of the San Callisto to install a new altar and refurbish the throne. In his homily, Cardinal Eijk spoke about Pope Saint Callistus I, to whom the church is dedicated. He called it:

“a magnificent place. The church lies in Trastevere, the beating heart of Rome the old city centre. But also because of the fact that Pope Callistus died a martyr’s death here – the well [in which he was thrown to his death – ed.] lies here in the church underneath the altar. So it is really a historical place. I consider Callistus an inspiring figure; in the lives of the saints there are parallels with our own lives, there are always things in their lives which can encourage you in your faith.”

Photo credit: Aartsbisdom.nl