Grumblings in the east

koch berlinFollowing the appointment of Archbishop Heiner Koch (pictured at left with Berlin’s  cathedral chapter) to Berlin, the other bishops of eastern Germany have expressed concern at the trend that seems to be developing, a tendency for bishops in that part of the country to be reassigned within a few years after being made ordinaries there. And they have a point.

  • In 2010, Bishop Konrad Zdarsa left Görlitz after having been the bishop there for three years and three months.
  • In 2014, Cardinal Rainer Woelki left Berlin after having been its archbishop for three years.
  • And on Monday,  Bishop Heiner Koch left Dresden-Meißen after almost 2 and half years.

The dioceses of eastern Germany, or most of the territory of the former communist German Democratic Republic have a fairly short history in their current form. On the 27th of June, 1994, Erfurt, Magdeburg and Görlitz were promoted from Apostolic Administration to full dioceses, Berlin, which had already been a  diocese since the 1930s, became a metropolitan archdiocese, reflecting the new freedom of governance that the Church had now gained in the former communist parts of Germany. The Apostolic Administration of Schwerin, in the north, became part of the newly established Archdiocese of Hamburg in October of that same year. Dresden-Meißen was the odd one out, having existed in its current form, except for a change of name in 1979, since 1921.

The short tenures of Bishops Zdarsa and Koch and Cardinal Woelki in the dioceses mentioned above came in all cases after significantly longer tenures of their predecessors: In Dresden-Meißen, Joachim Reinelt had been bishop for 24 years; in Berlin, Cardinal Sterzinsky was ordinary for 17 years; and in Görlitz, Bishop Rudolf Müller enjoyed 12 years as bishop. The contrast is evident.

feigeIn fact, the eastern German episcopate as a whole is young. Only Magdeburg’s Gerhard Feige (pictured) has a decade as bishop behind him, and the next senior is Görlitz’s Wolfgang Ipolt, ordinary for a mere four years.

In light of all this, Bishop Feige said about the transfer of Archbishop Koch, “Given the particularly difficult situation of Catholics in the new federal states, this is likely to add to a further destabilisation of the situation of the Church […] Unfortunately the impression is being given that the eastern German dioceses are something like ‘railway shunting yards’ or ‘traineeships’ to qualify bishops for ‘higher offices'”. Bishop Ipolt said that he hoped these rapid reassignments would not become habit. “In the future we need active shepherds for the people of God, here in the Diaspora of the east of Germany”. Together with Erfurt’s Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr, he does think that Archbishop Koch’s two-year experience in the east will be a boon in Berlin.

A bishop is the visible head of a local Church in matters of doctrine, worship and governance. The priests of a diocese assist him in these tasks. Stability is a great good in these matters, so it should be avoided to move bishops too often. In that sense I can understand the concerns of the bishops outlined above. On the other hand, as Archbishop Koch himself has also said, in the end a bishop goes where he is called, just like the Apostles, whose successors they are, went where they were sent.

The Archdiocese of Berlin has a bishop again, but Dresden-Meißen is vacant again. Should the bishops of the east be worried that another one of their ranks will be asked to move there? Anything is possible of course, but I don’t think that this is likely, especially since the concerns have now been voiced. But if the residing ordinaries are not be moved anymore, there are two auxiliary bishops in the area who could conceivably be tasked with governing a diocese of their own. Erfurt’s Bishop Reinhard Hauke has already done so during the two-year vacancy of the see there, before Bishop Neymeyr arrived last year. Berlin’s Bishop Matthias Heinrich is 60 and has been an auxiliary for six years.

As the rumours continue, Cardinal Sarah comes to the CDW

cardinal_robertsarahThe first ripple of an expected major shake-up of the Curia arrived today, as Pope Francis appointed a new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament, the dicastery that oversees all expressions of worship in the Church, most importantly the liturgy, as well as the sacraments. He is Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Guinean prelate who was once one of the youngest bishops ever, as St. Pope John Paul II appointed him Archbishop of Conakry at the age of just 34 in 1979.

Cardinal Sarah follows in the footsteps of Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, wh returned to his native Spain as Archbishop of Valencia in August, but perhaps even more so in those of Cardinal Francis Arinze, who led the Congregation from 2002 to 2008. Cardinal Sarah is the second African to lead this office since it was created as the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1588.

Cardinal Sarah previously led the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, which coordinates the Church’s efforts in aid and charity, and which is expected to be merged with various other dicasteries soon. Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal in 2010. Before that, Cardinal Sarah was the Archbishop of Conakry in Guinea from 1979 to 2001 and Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples from 2001 to 2010.

The appointment of Cardinal Sarah is unavoidably notable in the light of the Synod of Bishops and the impression of Pope Francis’ priorities. Cardinal Sarah, like many of his African colleagues, has little time for deviations of the Church’s  teaching nor, especially important in his new function, for the western tendency for liturgical experimentation.

For the Congregation for Divine Worship, or CDW for short, this means the start of a new era in leadership. After the departure of Cardinal Cañizares, the Congregation also saw two of its undersecretaries, British Father Anthony Ward and Spanish Msgr. Juan Miguel Ferrer Grenesche, resign, leaving only the secretary, English Archbishop Arthur Roche. Pope Francis did appoint a new undersecretary, Italian Fr. Corrado Maggioni, earlier this month, and with Cardinal Sarah the Congregation seems to be off to a new and refreshed start.

Cardinal Sarah is a hands-on kind of man, and in his previous duties for “Cor Unum” he frequently travelled to those places where the Church’s aid was most needed. In the photo below he is seen visiting the Philippines after Typhoon Yolanda hit last year. The upcoming papal visit, by the way, was in part inspired by the same disaster.

sarah

Cardinal Sarah’s name was not among those most frequently mentioned for the CDW top spot. Many were the fears that the position would go to Archbishop Piero Marini, erstwhile MC for St. John Paul II and the first years of Benedict XVI and generally considered rather a liberal. It just goes to show that the eyes and focus of Pope Francis are elsewhere, on the world’s peripheries, and the young and growing Church of Africa may yet harbour more surprises.

For a hermit, the road to priesthood

broeder%20hugo%20zonder%20kap%20(lichter)Wonderful news from the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed in Warfhuizen, late last night, as hermit Brother Hugo announced that he will be ordained to the diaconate on the 23rd of January. This news is the culmination of months of studying on the part of the hermit, and a process in which the status of the shrine has been regularised to such an extent that the future is ensured should Brother Hugo (many years from now, God willing) no longer be able to serve the needs of the pilgrims and Our Lady there. Brother Hugo is now a member of the hermit’s association of Frauenbründl in the German Diocese of Regensburg. This association now takes responsibility for having a hermit present at the shrine, even though the shrine remains part of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, and the hermit’s profession, made two years ago to the bishop, remains with him as well.

Brother Hugo’s ordination is set for 23 January and will take place at the cathedral of St. Joseph in Groningen. Bishop Gerard de Korte will be the ordaining bishop. The ordination to the priesthood will take place at a later date, presumably in the autumn of 2015. There will be no official invitations to the ordination, but everyone who wants to join in celebrating the occasion is welcome. Mass starts at 19:00 hours.

For the shrine of Our Lady, this will mean a further boost for the spiritual life which has been steadily growing over the past decade, as we may expect the daily celebration of Holy Mass to take place there once Brother Hugo is a priest. This in addition to the life of prayer, adoration, pilgrimage, worship and down-to-earth spiritual recharging for all who happen to wander into the shrine.

Brother Hugo has expressed great joy at the decision, which officially came as a response to a request from the hermit of Frauenbründl, who serves as the hermit’s association’s head. I add my own joy and prayers to that.

EDIT: Since I probably looked at the date crosseyed, I have corrected it: the ordination is scheduled for the 23rd of January, instead of the 25th. Time and location are unchanged.

The fallout of the cardinal’s sanctions, or how a priest seriously fails to get it

Yesterday, I wrote about Cardinal Wim Eijk sanctioning a Dominican priest for celebrating  a Maundy Thursday Mass that was invalid because of the liberal approach to liturgy. Whereas the Archdiocese of Utrecht has remained silent after announcing the sanctions and the reasons for them, Fr. Huisintveld has not been idle, and the media have been eager to give him a stage.

harry-huisintveldFather Harry Huisintveld (pictured) has been rather unavoidable in Dutch Catholic (and some generally Christian and secular) media today, sharing the pain of the sanctions imposed upon him, as well as a seeming lack of understanding of what it means to be a Catholic priest. He showcases a highly Protestant view of liturgy and church: not the magisterium, but the individual is the deciding factor in form and content of worship. In an interview today he stated that he felt free to adapt the Maundy Thursday Mass to the perceived needs to the faithful.

By his own words, he has received much support, and that is not surprising. After all, he is curtailed in his freedom to do what he wants and that freedom is, in the eyes of modern man, the highest right of all people, one that trumps all others. By curtailing the exercise of this right, Cardinal Eijk is the legalistic bogey man wielding those mortal enemies of personal freedom: rules and regulations.

This attitude, especially when it is the attitude of an ordained Catholic priest, is a much greater affront than the strict sanctions imposed by the cardinal. Fr. Huisintveld has made himself the arbiter of what can and can not be done in and with the liturgy, thus removing all loyalty to, and even recognition of, the Magisterium of the Church. In essence, he is saying that he is under no obligation to maintain the Mass as it has been handed down for generations, and which has developed like that for good theological and pastoral reasons, when and if he perceives it is not necessary. He knows better.

If that is your attitude, that is bad enough. But to be surprised, even indignant, if the Church you belong to, but whose rules you disregard, calls you out on it (and not for the first time), is a whole other kettle of fish. That is nothing more than pandering to the superficial feelings of people who see a man’s freedom being curtailed. “Help, I’m being repressed, because I only want to be Catholic when it suits me.”

Fr. Huisintveld may be good with people, he may be a beloved priest and have many other skills which are not relevant here (although both he and the Dominican Order in the Netherlands disagree with that – “he is such a nice man, how can you do that to a nice fellow who means no harm?”), but he is a bad liturgist and a worse priest for it.

Priests are not priests for themselves. They are God’s priests for the people. They don’t get to decide what God should and should not desire in the worship that is His due.

As it  was revealed today that the liturgy for Fr. Huisintveld’s Mass was drafted by a liturgy committee, I am reminded of a comment made years ago by my own parish priest: “”The first thing you should do as a priest is to get rid of the liturgy committee.” We already have a liturgy committee. It’s called the Roman Missal.

Photo credit: Fr. Harry Huisintveld

Credo – our faith confessed, part 1

The Creed is the faith that we confess at every Mass, and it is therefore a summary of what we believe, the truths we hold as such – truths. These truths not only identify what we believe in, but also who we are. They form our Catholic identity.

On the road towards the Year Of Faith, I want to take a look at the Nicene Creed, line by line, to see what it tells us about the truth of being Catholic Christians.

I believe in one God, the Father almighty

In the first line of the Creed we find that every word has meaning. It starts of with “I believe”, indicating that this is my confession. It is not merely some statement that applies to all who say it in a general sense; no, it is intensely personal. This implies that, when we say the Creed, we should really try to do so consciously, aware of what we are saying, and, equally important, to whom. Are we telling the people around us what we believe, or do we direct our words, like everything in the liturgy of Mass, towards our Lord God?

Which handily leads us to the rest of that first line. We believe “in one God”. There is a single God, and that God is one. That’s not just some juggling with words, but it tells us something about God. He is unique, there are no others like Him. This has an effect on our relationships with other religions (although this is not the place to delve into the intricacies of ecumenism), but also focusses our worship, our relationship with Him. He is not an option among many, He is the only option, really.

He is also “the Father”. God is a father, which gives a hint about how we relate to Him: like children to a father. Like human fathers (or fathers as they should be, to be fair), God loves us. He also has a responsibility towards us, like a father has to his children. A responsibility to love, raise and educate them. Fathers also usually know better than their children, and we trust them to act for our wellbeing, even if we don’t appreciate their actions or decisions at the time. We know that God is for us, never against us.

Lastly, we state that God is “almighty”. He exceeds all earthly powers and strength, standing, as we will learn in the next line of the Creed, above all creation. All that we see around us, all that we are capable of, finds its source in the almighty God. His might is not something earned or achieved, but something that is innate to His being.

Art credit: God the Father, by Antoniazzo Romano (1489)

From Moscow to Cologne

As the fallout of the Pussy Riot trial in Russia reaches Germany, the message seems rather lost. Whereas the Russian punk band presented their protest as against the regime of Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church (while, it must be added, not hesitating to spit in the faces of many Russian faithful), three young sympathisers who interrupted Mass in Cologne’s cathedral on Sunday seem to have missed the boat a bit when it comes to understanding, well, basically a lot.

The Mass, offered by Auxiliary Bishop Heiner Koch of Cologne, was similar to the Divine Liturgy in Moscow’s cathedral in that both are sacramental acts of worship, but that’s where the similarities end. The Catholic Church is not the Orthodox Church and in Germany she is not linked to political parties, as the Orthodox Church is in Russia (Father Alexander Lucie-Smith has an interesting article in that side of the issue). The short protest that interrupted the Mass would have been rather pointless if it were politically motivated. As an act of support for the three jailed members of Pussy Riot it had perhaps symbolical value, but neither the Catholic Church in Germany or the Archdiocese of Cologne is, of course, involved in the actions of Russia’s judiciary.

It almost seems that the German sympathisers looked at the nature of the Pussy Riot protest, and decided to do something outwardly similar – interrupt the liturgy and mock the faithful participating. The reason and motivation, in the meantime, are lost in the kerfuffle.

Feathers decidedly unruffled, Bishop Koch stated he would pray for the concerns of the protesters in Germany and Russia. The police in Cologne, though, said the protesters are accused of trespassing and disturbing the free exercise of religion.

Photo credit: DPA

Afternoon reflection: Worship

A late reflection today, in part because we’re looking at part of  the Scripture reading from today’s Vespers. Here, in the Letter to the Romans (12:1-2), we are reminded of the kind of worship that we as people should perform.

“I urge you, then, brothers, remembering the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, dedicated and acceptable to God; that is the kind of worship for you, as sensible people. Do not model your behaviour on the contemporary world, but let the renewing of your minds transform you, so that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and mature.”

We have already learned earlier that we are to be our own sacrifices (our “broken and contrite hearts” – Ps. 51:17), as this passage’s first line repeats. The text now adds that our sacrifice  is in fact our way of worshipping God. It is fitting for us as “sensible people”.We may ask ourselves of our worship – our prayer, our Mass attendance – is anything like that. Or is our worship perhaps more based on what we do? If we lead a prayer group perhaps, are especially pious in our prayer, or if we are lector, acolyte  or sacristan at Mass? All these duties, fine and necessary as they are, are exterior features and have nothing to do with being “dedicated and acceptable to God”. Before anything else, we must remember “the mercies of God”. This opens us up to God, and, as later lines of the text tell us, this “is good and acceptable and mature”.