Mercy for all – in major letter, Pope Francis outlines the Jubilee

“This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one,” could be the simple and rather accurate summary of the letter that Pope Francis sent to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, outlining some points he wishes to focus on during the Jubilee of Mercy which starts in December. That these are not just words becomes clear when we take a closer look at some of those points.

Of course, the Holy Father first speaks about the faithful, who are called to make a brief pilgrimage to the Holy Door, in every cathedral or other church designated by the local bishop, and in the four papal basilicas in Rome, in order to receive the Jubilee Indulgence. This pilgrimage is, the Pope writes, “a sign of the deep desire for true conversion”. The pilgrimage should also be linked to the Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist, and feature  the profession of faith and prayers for the Pope and his intentions.

But there are also those who are unable to make this pilgrimage: the sick, the elderly, the lonely, even prisoners. God does not ask us for the impossible, so these people can obtain the indulgence by living their time of trial with hope and faith, by receiving Communion or attending Mass or community prayer, even through all forms of communication channels. Prisoners can receive the indulgence in prison chapels.

The Church as a whole is also called to perform the spiritual and corporeal works of mercy*. By making the mercy received from God visible as we extend it to others, the indulgence is surely also obtained, Pope Francis writes.

Even the deceased can obtain the indulgence, not through their own actions, of course, but through ours. We do this by praying for them in the liturgy of the Mass.

The big point, according to all media, has to do with abortion. Pope Francis has decide to give all priests across the world the faculties of giving absolution to all who have procured an abortion and who seek forgiveness for it. This does not mean that abortion is no longer a sin, or that it no longer leads to automatic excommunication. That is unchanged. But the mercy we receive calls us to be merciful to others, and to allow them to be forgiven. The door to that forgiveness has now been opened wider for the course of the Jubilee.

Lastly, this same forgiveness and absolution may now also be obtained from priests of the Society of Saint Pius X. While these priests remain in a sort of limbo, since their ordinations are valid but not licit (ie. they do not have permission from the Church to exercise their priestly faculties), they have now received a temporary permission to hear confession and offer absolution to the faithful. This in its own is a major step on the road to a future reconciliation.

The letter is an interesting piece of work, and one with major repercussions. Confession and absolution is what it’s all about: we receive Gods mercy when we acknowledge our sins and errors, and when we are contrite. God forgives readily those who ask Him. And once that mercy has been received, we are to share it, pass it on to those around us.

*Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, ransom the captive, bury the dead, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offences willingly, comfort the afflicted and pray for the living and the dead.

I have made a first Dutch translation of the letter, which is available here. I did notice, however, that the English text is rather clumsy and unclear in places. I resorted to the German text to clear up some passages. Others may want to do likewise, depending on their fluency in Italian, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese or Polish.

Bishop Fellay, not so sensible

Bishop-Bernard-FellayIn previous years I was growing to consider Bishop Bernard Fellay of the SSPX a fairly sensible fellow. He seemed to be treading carefully between his responsibilities as head of the breakaway fraternity and a desire to come to some sort of agreement with Rome. His comments during a conference last weekend, however, rather effectively destroyed that image.

“It is not that we don’t want to be Catholics, of course we want to be Catholics and we are Catholics, and we have a right to be recognized as Catholics.”

We want to be Catholic, but on our terms, not that of the magisterium, the Pope even. I am normally used to hear such words from the ultra-liberals not unfamiliar in my own neck of the woods. It just goes to show that no matter what opinion we have, everyone runs to risk of placing ourselves and our wishes, opinions and demands before those of the Lord and His Church.

Let’s get some things straight: when Jesus told St. Peter that his authority over His flock would be absolute (Matthew 16:19), He was not kidding. Of course, we may disagree with what St. Peter or his successors say and do, but that does not mean their authority over their flock is in any way diminished (Fr. Tim Finigan, by the way, has a good summary on assent to the magisterium, or teaching authority, of the Pope).

When someone, be they Bishop Fellay or a liberal Catholic, says they are Catholic no matter what anyone else, let alone the Catholic Church, says, they are not taking the Lord seriously. They are placing themselves before Him, making their own opinions more important than His desires.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Kasper turns 80

kasperWhereas a cardinal’s 80th birthday usually represent a pretty definite point beyond which he can no longer vote in a conclave, this is not so for Walter Cardinal Kasper. His 80th birthday, yesterday, fell in the sede vacante, and that means that he can still vote in the upcoming conclave. Only cardinals who mark their 80th before the See of Peter falls vacant lose that right.

Born in the heart of southern Germany, Walter Kasper became a priest of the Diocese of Rottenburg in 1957. He started his priestly ministry as a parish priest in Stuttgart, but soon returned to studying. In 1958 he earned a doctorate in dogmatic theology at the University of Tübbingen, where he also became a faculty member until 1961. Among other things, he was an assistant to Hans Küng. His academic career soon took flight, and included  a teaching post in dogmatic theology in Münster and the job of dean of the theological faculty both there and in Tübbingen. In 1983, Father Kasper was a visiting professor at the Catholic University of America.

In 1989, returned to his native diocese, which by that time had been renamed as Rottenburg-Stuttgart, and he did as bishop. He would helm that diocese for ten years, and in 1994 he became co-chair of the International Commission for Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, an appointment paving the way for his future.

Bishop Kasper was called to Rome in 1999 to become the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He became an archbishop then and in 2001 he was created a cardinal, with Ognissanti in Via Appia Nuova as his deanery. Today that church is his title church, as he was elevated to the ranks of the cardinal-priests in 2011. Upon his creation, Cardinal Kasper took over the presidency of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In 2010, Cardinal Kasper laid down his duties as president and retired, although he remained a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura until the sede vacante began last week.

Over the years, Cardinal Kasper has been one of the more visible curial cardinals, not least because of his critical approach to certain events and development, both within and without the Church. In 1993 he was one of the bishops who signed a letter allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. He also criticised the 2000 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, claiming it was offensive to the Jews. In both cases, he was in an opposite position to Cardinal Ratzinger. On the other hand, his role in ecumenism also led to criticism from the more conservative wings of the Church. His ecumenical efforts were mainly aimed at the Orthodox Churches, and he led multiple Catholic delegations eastward. He also worked much towards mutual understanding between Catholic and Jews.

Most recently, he frankly spoke of miscommunications and mismanagement within the Curia, concerning the lifting of the excommunication of four St. Pius X Society bishops. Leading up to the papal visit to the United Kingdom in 2010, Cardinal Kasper perhaps too frankly about the secularism in that country, and in the end did not join the Pope on his visit.

With Cardinal Kasper’s 80th birthday the number of electors remains at 117. Only after the conclave does he become a non-elector.

On the edge of Europe, welcome home

The Congregation of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer, of the Transalpine Redemptorists blog, were today received back into the fold of the Church, as the impressive Bishop Hugh Gilbert, O.S.B. of Aberdeen established them as a Clerical Institute of Diocesan Right. This ends four years of some limbo for the brothers on their windy monastery island of Papa Stronsay, one of the Orkneys.

Below, some of the brothers are pictured with Bishop Gilbert at an earlier occasion.

Once belonging to the SSPX, the community requested recognition from the Holy See, so as to be fully reunited to the Church, after Pope Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum in 2007. The Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form exclusively, which the motu proprio regulated.

The community has long had a presence on my blog roll, and their blog is recommended. Heartfelt congratulations to these men of prayer and work! May they long continue their good work for Gods Church and all of us.

An introduction to Abp. Müller

There has been much talk about the new prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, but we haven’t heard much from him. Hence, as a sort of introduction, my translation of this interview, courtesy of Johannes Schidelko of Kath.net.

KNA: My Lord Archbishop, what do you feel in the face of your appointment?

Müller: Gratitude for the confidence that the pope gives me. It is not an easy task, considering the entirety of the World Church; but it is a beautiful assignment to be able to serve the pope in his teaching. The office has a universal ecclesiastic dimention – and has nothing to do with centralisation.

KNA: When did you know that you would be going to Rome?

Müller: For a while already. But the change of office needs to run its ordered course.

KNA: Do you know why the pope has appointed you? Did he want a German, a theologian, someone he trusted?

Müller: It certainly wasn’t about the nationality, and as Catholics we all belong to the world Church. But the Holy Father knows me and my theological work, not only as an author, but also as an expert of the Synod of Bishops in Rome and in the committees of Ecumenism and Faith of the German Bishops’ Conference.

KNA: When do you begin in your office?

Müller: I have already begun, on July 2nd.

KNA: You are now one of the most important people in the Vatican, and one of the closest collaborators of the pope. What are your first steps?

Müller: I have already met with the leaders of the Congregation, to get an overview of the daily procedures and responsibilities. The scope is very broad: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith consists of three departments: the doctrinal, disciplinary and marriage departmentd. The prefect is at also president of the Bible Commission and the International Theological Commission. We have about fifty immediate employees. Then there are the “Feria quarta”, the meetings of cardinals, which takes place every four weeks.

KNA: What are your substantive priorities?

Müller: The Congregation is responsible for the promotion of the doctrine of the faith, and not only for its protection. The 1965 reorganisation of the agency has placed this positive aspect in its heart. It is about the promotion of theology and its basis in Revelation, to ensure its quality, and to consider the important intellectual developments on a global scale. We can’t simply and mechanically repeat the doctrine of the faith. It must always be associated with the intellectual developments of the time, the sociological changes, the thinking of people.

KNA: What do you want to emphasise especially? What do you want to especially deal with in the near future?

Müller: The Congregation has the task of supporting the pope in his Magisterium. We must orient ourselves on the emphases he makes in his proclamations. During his journey to Germany, Benedict XVI put the question of God at the centre. He also spoke of the ‘worldliness’ of the Church – a topic not only intended for Germany. It is about a right understanding of the nature and mission of the Church; about finding the right balance between shutting out the world and adapting to it – so that we can truly serve the world in the name of Jesus Christ. In particular, we have to counter a widespread apathy in matters of faith. The ‘Year of Faith’, with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Council and twenty years of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, will be an essential contribution to this.

KNA: You begin your service in a turbulent time for the Vatican. Or is the Vatican currently back on its feet again?

Müller: I don’t know much about this concretely. It remains to be seen what the investigations reveal. What seems important to me is that the good works of the many hundreds of employees in the Curia are not overlooked. They are unfairly associated with these individual actions; the impression is created that everyone is involved. That is totally out of the question.

KNA: Another major topic in Rome is the anniversary of the Council. What do you expect from looking back?

Müller: We do not need a hermeneutic that is imposed upon the Council from outside. It is important to explore the hermeneutic that is included in the Council itself: the hermeneutic of reform in continuity, as the Holy Father has repeatedly underlined. A Council is the execution of the highest magisterium of the Church in the communion of the bishops with the Pope.

In this sense, the Second Vatican Council was a wonderful event, albeit from a somewhat different type than some previous councils. It was its legitimate intention to respond not only to certain errors and correct them, but to provide an overall view of the Catholic faith. It wanted not many individual elements, but the big picture, the great architecture of the present church with large rooms where you can feel at home and gladly live.

KNA: The Council, however, also created problems, for example for the SSPX.

Müller: Everyone who calls himself Catholic, will also have to keep the principles of the Catholic faith. These are not pre-formulated by the CDF or anyone else, but given to us in the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ, which has been entrusted to the Church. One can therefore not simply pick from it what fits in a given structure.

Rather, one must be open to the whole of the Christian faith, the whole profession of faith, the Church’s history and development of her teaching. One must be open to the living Tradition which does not end somewhere – say in 1950 – but goes on. Inasmuch as we appreciate history with her great achievements, we must also see that every era is also directly related to God. Every era has its own challenges. We can not explain a historical era according to the classical pattern, but we walk from one summit to the next.

Photo credit: Armin Weigel dpa/lby

The benefit of the doubt

I am, quite frankly, surprised and a bit dismayed at the bad press that Archbishop Müller, the Pope and the entire Vatican apparatus have been getting today, following the former’s appointment as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Father Z, here, makes the following observation:

“Müller has made some statements about clerical celibacy and Mariology that have a few people scratching their heads. That said, his job is to make [things] run smoothly at the Congregation, not to shape the Church’s doctrine.”

Archbishop Müller may have made some theological statements which, at first glance and out of context, seem to be at odds with Catholic dogma. But we are all aware of how easily things can be taken out of context, and also – let’s be honest – how clumsy prelates can sometimes be when explaining things to the media. Pope Benedict XVI has had to learn that, and Archbishop Müller will have to as well, if he hasn’t already.

Before rushing to keyboard or microphone to denounce someone as a heretic (yes, I am looking at Bishop De Galaretta of the SSPX, for one), we should support a new prelate in whatever small way we can, and give him the time to prove or – if necessary – correct himself. No one is perfect, but we all have the possibility to excel. That goes for curia prelates as well as for us.

One future cardinal stays at home

The upcoming consistory’s 22-name list will not be complete on the 18th of this month. One of the 22 new cardinals won’t be travelling down to Rome for reasons of ill health. Father Karl Josef Becker, the 83-year-old German theologian and consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, will be created a cardinal at a private ceremony at some later date.

Father Becker has long been a confidante of Pope Benedict XVi, from back when the latter, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Fr. Becker also participated in the negotiations with the SSPX about their return to Rome.

As a Jesuit priest he will most likely also request dispensation from being consecrated a bishop before his elevation to cardinal. Of the three future cardinals who are not bishops yet – Fr. Becker, Fr. Julien Ries and Fr. Prosper Grech – only the latter will be consecrated a bishop, and appointed as titular Archbishop of San Leone. This will take place on 8 February. The exact nature of Fr. Becker’s health concerns have not been revealed.

Source: Radio Vatikan.

Guest blogger Ingrid on the March for Life

A first in my blog today: a proper guest blogger. Ingrid Airam, who usually blogs in Dutch about all kinds of Catholic topics, describes her experience of participating in a March For Life in The Hague and shares why she could do no less but participate. Her contribution starts underneath the photo.

The March for Life, something I had heard of once in a while, and by chance  read about on the website of the church of Saint Agnes in Amsterdam, about a week before the march would be held this year. Well, by chance… in some ways it obviously wasn’t. But considering the marginal attention (one can safely say none at all) offered by other parishes in the Netherlands it was. A march against a so-called medical procedure which is legal in the Netherlands. Theoretically only in emergencies, but that word proves to be very flexible in practice.

So why in Heaven’s protest against which is so commonly accepted in this country? Not even simply accepted, but something that is considered by many a right and a sign of civilisation. Essentially it’s very simple: I am pro-life in heart and soul, but also with a  considerably amount of sense. And although I really understand the difficulties of a woman faced with such a choice, I consider it barbaric, to quote one of our listeners. And when I am full of words about sanctity and worth of protection of life, wouldn’t it be weak not to participate in such a march? And so I considered it nothing more than my Christian, no, even my human duty to walk – even though it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference, least of all in politics – even though, as a student, I have little money to spend and traveling costs money, after all. I simply couldn’t do anything less.

And so,this Saturday, 11 December 2010, I stood on the Plein in The Hague. A fair number of Catholics had attended a traditional Mass beforehand and had come to the Plein from there. It wasn’t an enormous number, but still a fair number of people. And so many different people: from children to elderly, many young people, Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics… Beforehand some words from Minister Dorenbos, as far as I know one of the initiators, although I am not sure, encouragement from a Belgian pro-life movement (Catholics, as I found out later when we were walking right behind them, and all of them young), and some testimonials. One of them from an elderly lady who had undergone an abortion, and a younger woman of, I would say, about my age. Impressive and certainly encouraging. By then many people had their placards in hand, with texts as ‘Stop abortion now’  and ‘Jesus forgiver’. hen we left. I don’t know the exact route anymore, since I’m not at all familiar in The Hague, but I think we generously avoided the Binnenhof [seat of the Dutch parliament – MV]. I was somewhat surprised at how quiet it was along the route. Apart from a shouting woman, a few signs and two troublemaker it was quiet. My tension abated somewhat, and armed with a rosary and police around us (honestly, compliments for them on this day) we walked the route in relative quiet. Passers-by stopped, often with surprised looks, taking pictures.

Back at the Plein there were speeches. They started well, powerfully. Among them a man from America who hadn’t been supposed to be born according to his mother and the doctors: but the abortion failed. Another proclaimed that we, in the Netherlands, of whatever denomination, should make this a priority in our prayers, to stand up for life.

I don’t recall the later speakers as much, it was too much. But the fact that these people were so clear… I wish our bishops and priests would join this, and make this an important point on the agenda. Because, although there was a decent number of Catholics, there was all of one bishop (Msgr. de Jong, who deserves all accolades, and who also said a few words), two priests from the FSSP and one from the SSPX, it was a very meager showing. Granted, it is an originally Protestant march, but that does not diminish the importance of the march and the common goal. The Catholic Church offers clear teachings about this, a message of love. And so we should join our forces for this. Christians in the Netherlands, in Flanders… let’s unite, pray… and be on the Plein next year with a much larger number!

Photo credit: Bryan Kemper for Jeunes pour la Vie

Stretching the definition of Catholicism

Bishop Richard Williamson – indeed, he of the Holocaust denial – has shared some more of his wonderful thoughts with the world. This time it is about the ongoing discussions between Rome and the SSPX fraternity, of which Williamson is a member. The SSPX does not accept the Second Vatican Council, with some adherents even being sedevacantist: they do not accept the authority of any pope since Venerable Pope Pius XII. The SSPX has placed itself outside the Church by believing they, instead of the Church, have the authority to decide what is true Catholicism.

Williamson’s entire text is available here, but I want to focus on the following paragraph:

“The rumour from Rome is precisely that [the pope] is thinking of a “Motu Proprio” which would accept the SSPX “back into the Church” once and for all, yet require from the SSPX no explicit acceptance of Vatican II or the New Mass, but only, for instance, the acceptance of John-Paul[sic] II’s 1992 “Catechism of the Catholic Church”, which is substantially modernist but in a quiet way. Thus the SSPX would not appear to its followers to be accepting the Council or the New Mass, yet it would be softly, softly, beginning to go along with the substance of neo-modernism.”

Still a bit mad then.

I wonder if Williamson is even involved with the talks with Rome – if the SSPX is smart, he is not – so where he gets these ideas is anyone’s guess. But suppose it’s true. Suppose that the otherwise intelligent Pope Benedict XVI would welcome the SSPX back into the fold of the Church while not asking anything of them but some acceptance of the latest edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. That means allowing a schismatic group to continue being schismatic while at the same time presenting themselves as part of the unity of the Church. Something doesn’t fit there.

The Second Vatican Council is not dogmatic. It does not contain anything new that was not part of the faith before. The expression of many aspects of the faith was adapted and changed, that is true, but the faith itself was left unchanged, as of course it should have been. But it is a fact that it happened, that it is part of the recent history of the Church. Denying it is then much more then denying cosmetic changes, it is a denial of truths of faith. Cosmetic changes can be debated and accepted or not accepted. The Fraternity of St. Peter did exactly that: it chose the older form of the Mass exclusively, but does not deny the Council. Again, denying that is denying the authority of the popes and bishops, of the Church, an authority that Christ Himself gave. It is denying Christ.

And if we take our faith seriously, we must continue to trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things, also in the things we may not like very much. If the SSPX denies a Church council, they indirectly deny the Holy Spirit.

If such a group is allowed back into the fold, it opens the door for other schismatic and dubious groups as well. No, if you want to be Catholic, you’ll have to be Catholic, not some arbitrary form of Catholicism containing only those bits you like.

Pope Benedict XVI is undeniable smarter than to do this.

The SSPX speaks against carnival Masses

Anti-liturgical chaos in the sanctuary in a church in Tilburg in 2008.

The SSPX in Germany has released a statement condemning so-called carnival Masses and services, and they call upon the German bishops to act against those practices. These carnival services have become custom in many parts of Europe where the prelude to Lent is celebrated extensively, which are basically the historically Catholic areas. Carnival, while not something I would go out of my way to take part in, is a harmless cultural celebration, originating as a last chance to celebrate before the forty days of Lent started, when the faithful would prepare for Easter.  

Carnival has long since become a mostly secular reason to party and as such it has come back to the churches. This time around, however, it is not organically linked to the period that comes after it, but it has become imposed on the church’s actions in that period. The sanctity of the liturgy, the music, the sacraments and even the priests have been replaced with dress-up parties, funny interludes, clowns and inappropriate music. These are just fine outside the church, but inside, Christ and His sacrifice on the cross are at the centre of attention.  

Normally, I am sceptical about the SSPX. I don’t agree with their near-schismatic stance towards Rome and the Second Vatican Council, and I find it particularly ironic that they now cite one of the council’s documents and call upon the council’s authority to confirm their position. However, that does not take away the validity of their concerns in this matter.  

The sense of the sacred has all but disappeared in western society, and these carnival Masses are both part of the result and reason of that. Party all you want outside the Church, but do not destroy the innate sense of the sacred that is present in Christ and His people.  

The original press release, in German, may be found here, and below is my translation into English.   

———————-  

Carnival services are not authorised  

The Priestly Society of St. Pius X points out that the carnival services currently taking place in Germany are not authorised, since they are in contradiction of the law as well as 2,000 years of Church Tradition. The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium of the Second Vatican Council reads: “Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority”(22.3).  

The things that go on during the time of carnival in the Churches go not only against the sanctity of the consecrated space, but also against every Catholic understanding of the sacrifice of the Mass. Sacrosanctum Concilium also reads: “[T]he sacred liturgy is above all things the worship of the divine Majesty” (33). And:  “Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop” (22.1).  

We therefore ask the German bishops, who are otherwise always keen advocats of Vatican II, to immediately order a stop to the unworthy spectacles in Catholic churches and to strongly affirm the regulations of the council regarding the liturgy, as their Swiss brother bishop Vitus Huonder has already done.  

The culture of near-arbitrariness and banality that has entered the holy service to God certainly goes against the intentions of the Council fathers. Theatre and entertainment have replaced the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, which is renewed in the sacrament of the altar. Costumed priests have the same agenda as Catholics who dress up in fool’s caps and dance the polonaise in church.  

Christ Himself did not even allow the seling of animals for the sacrifice in the anteroom of the old covenant’s sanctuary, the temple in Jerusalem, but expelled the traders and moneylenders as a scourge. What would He have to say about these abuses of the holy places and acts of the new covenant?  

Berlin, 12 February 2010  

Fr. Matthias Gaudron, Dogmatic of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X