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Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue: Pope Francis, the Eucharist, and Reception

In recent weeks, two significant events highlighted the significant progress made in Catholic-Lutheran dialogue over the last fifty years.

OntheWayOn 31 October, Reformation Day, the U.S. Catholic-Lutheran dialogue published a consensus statement, Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharist. The Declaration draws on the fifty years of official dialogues to produce a litany of 32 consensus statements – a list of doctrinal agreements on the related topics of the Church, ministry, and the Eucharist – that are the direct results of dialogue, and which are no longer church-dividing issues.

The Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has unanimously affirmed the document and has forwarded it to the 2016 Churchwide Assembly and the Lutheran World Federation for consideration. On the Catholic side, the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) also affirmed the consensus unanimously. They have sent it on to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity for consideration.

Two key points from the conclusion of From Conflict to Communion guided the work. [Called to Communion is the 2013 document published by the international Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformations, in 2017]:

          1)      Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.

2)      Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with each other and by mutual witness of faith.

Too frequently, we hear the complaint, “What has been achieved with all this dialogue?” as if to expect that the answer is nothing. It is easier for those of us too young to remember the time before the Council to think this way, growing up in an age when it was taken for granted that we should be ecumenically engaged, and little seems to have changed since the 1980s. The purpose of this document is to respond to the question, and to lay the groundwork for the next steps in the dialogue.

With the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) the days when one could simplistically summarize the disparity on Catholic and Lutheran teaching on justification as “Protestants believe you are saved by faith alone, and Catholics that you are saved by faith and works” are thankfully long gone. The Declaration on the Way offers a longer list of doctrines that we clearly share in common.

The summary form makes it easy for preachers to integrate into their preaching, and catechists to integrate into their teaching. While wading through volumes of dialogue statements and notes might make a daunting task for the typical parish pastoral minister or Sunday school teacher, this entire document is about 100 pages and easily navigated.

This concern is “Ecumenical Reception”. It is one thing for the Churches, through their official dialogues, to agree on an article of faith, but it is quite another for that to really sink in at the grassroots level. It has to be adopted, and adapted, at the local level – both in terms of local culture and pastoral practice, and at the level of individual faith and the understanding. What good is an agreement on justification or ecclesiology if the Sunday school teachers, the pulpit preachers, and the popular bloggers are still using outdated information and spreading stereotypes based on the misunderstandings and attitudes of the past, as if no dialogue had ever happened?

Catholics and Lutherans agree on the Church’s foundation in God’s saving work, in Scripture and the means of Grace, the Church as communion (koinonia) with visible and invisible elements, the communion of saints and the eschatological nature of the Church and its mission. We agree on ordained ministry as an essential element of the Church, the universal priesthood, the divine origin of ministry, the nature of ministerial authority, much of the nature of ordination, the unity of the orders of ministry, and the need for a ministry of worldwide unity. So too are there agreements on the Trinitarian and Christological dimension of the Eucharist, the Eucharist as a sacrificial memorial, the eschatological and ecclesiological dimensions of the Eucharist, and even on the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

Where work remains to be done is on some aspects of the nature of ordination and who may be ordained, and the question of what intermediate sacramental steps might be taken to help lead to reconciliation an full communion among the separated Christian communities. Before offering ‘next steps on the way’ the document suggests that “The possibility of occasional admission of members of our churches to Eucharistic communion with the other side (communicatio in sacris) could be offered more clearly and regulated more compassionately.”

Declaration ont eh way

Bishop Dennis Madden, USCCB and Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA

Almost as if in response to the document, Pope Francis visited Rome’s Evangelical Lutheran Church just a couple weeks later, on 15 November, and responded to a question about Eucharistic hospitality that suggested that Lutherans might receive communion as a matter of conscience. We take it as a given that this assumes the normal conditions being met and in appropriate circumstances.

At first blush, this seems little more than an affirmation of the long-standing practice of the Church articulated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which was virtually unchanged from the pre-Vatican II conditions.

According to the Code, for members of the churches and ecclesial communions born out of the Reformation (i.e., Anglicans and Protestants) to receive communion during a Catholic Eucharist, they must:

  1. Be baptized
  2. Be properly disposed
  3. Manifest Catholic faith in the sacrament (=Real Presence)
  4. Not have access to a minister of their own church or communion
  5. Approach the sacrament on their own accord
  6. Be motivated by “grave pastoral need”, such as danger of death; other situations to be determined (generally, not case-by-case) by the episcopal conference or diocesan bishop. (CIC §844.4)

[Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, and Old Catholic Christians are allowed to participate in Catholic sacramental life at any time, with respect to the rules of their own traditions, essentially only needing baptism, disposition, and belief in the Real Presence, which are all assumed in these cases as well. This is dealt with in CIC §844.3]

In application, Lutherans always fulfill condition 1: we have long recognized their baptism as valid. Whenever a communicant approaches during the communion procession, it is assumed they fulfill conditions 2 and 5, unless there is some grave public reason to know otherwise. This is, even for Catholics, generally a matter of conscience (guided by their spiritual advisor, confessor, etc.).

As the consensus statement above highlights, Catholics and Lutherans have long articulated agreement on the Real Presence, so being Lutheran is enough to fulfill condition 3.

This condition does not mean, as some have suggested, that only those in full communion with the Catholic Church can receive communion; it means you must agree with the Catholic theology of the Real Presence; most Christians do. Neither does it mean that you must use the word “transubstantiation” – even within the Catholic communion, many of the Eastern Churches do not. In Mysterium Fidei (1965), and Paul VI reminded us that it is helpful, even necessary, to find “fresh ways of expressing [the Real Presence], even by using new words” – it is the meaning of the doctrine, not its formulation, which is always imperfect and in need of reform, that is essential.

Where there is remains some discussion, and frequent confusion, are the following two questions:

  • what does it mean not to have access to a minister of their own church?
  • and what constitutes a grave pastoral need?

The 1993 Directory on the Application of Principals and Norms on Ecumenism offers an interpretive lens and some clarifications, noting that, “in certain circumstances, by way of exception, and under certain conditions, access to these sacraments may be permitted, or even commended, for Christians of other Churches and ecclesial Communities.” (§130)

Pope John Paul II similarly softened the language of condition 6 from “danger of death or other grave necessity” to simply “grave spiritual need”. He reduced the requirements to this spiritual need and baptism, proper disposition, and who freely approach the sacrament – eliminating the “lack of access to a minister of their own faith” as a condition. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia §34-46, esp. 45). Where bishops and bishops conferences have attended to their duty in this regard, ‘mixed’ marriage and family life is the most common example of a situation that meets these conditions.

Unfortunately, as with a great many of the Polish pope’s great achievements, he lead by example and larger-than-life theatrical symbols, and never changed the law itself to correspond with his actions or apparent intentions. One could hope that among the myriad reforms that the Church needs would be an updating of the Code to account for the developments in ecumenical dialogue over the last five decades.

Both John Paul II and the Directory take care to point out that this concerns individuals, not interim concelebration or general table fellowship, and that the purpose is always for the spiritual care of the individual and the motivation for full communion, with care that it not lead to indifferentism. Triumphalism about Catholic Eucharistic theology or practice – that is, to suggest erroneously that only Catholics celebrate the Eucharist or “have the Real Presence” – is not part of the equation. In fact, it could be argued that if that is your attitude, you are not properly disposed to receive, owing to a sin of pride!

In other words, it is not possible for any informed Catholic to say, “Non-Catholics may never receive communion at a Catholic Eucharist”. This truth has been encased in law since at least 1983. This is a “dumbing-down” of a complex discipline of the faith to the point of error.

Understanding of the conditions under which access to the sacrament is allowed has developed even in the thirty years since the Code was pope lutheranpublished. These legitimate developments have to be considered as well, not just the Code itself. It is already Church teaching and practice, explicitly in many jurisdictions and implicitly in others, that the Lutheran spouse of a Catholic could receive communion during the Catholic Eucharist, at least in some situations.

Pope Francis is merely reiterating this. What he does, and has every right to do, as supreme pontiff and universal pastor, in light of real progress made by the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue on the Eucharist, is to frame it in a more positive way. He could, in fact, change the Code itself to allow more frequent opportunities, or to spell out more clearly a longer list of situations, like an interchurch marriage, where the exceptions apply. He is, after all, the supreme legislator.

We already know that there are certain circumstances that a Lutheran can receive; Pope Francis is suggesting that it is a matter of conscience by the individual to determine when those conditions are fulfilled. This is, practically, just acknowledging the current practice of the Church: it is the conscience of the person that determines if they are properly disposed, whether there is spiritual need (and what constitutes ‘grave’), and motivates them to approach the sacrament.

The bishop of Rome also reminds us, as did Vatican II, that communion is not only the goal and sign of ecclesial communion achieved, but also a viaticum (food for the journey) for walking together on the way to that unity. If witness to the unity of the Church generally restricts Eucharistic sharing, the grace to be had from it sometimes commends the practice. (UR §8). Under the right, carefully proscribed circumstances, the Church has taught for fifty years, certain occasions of Eucharistic hospitality is good for the soul, and for the ultimate goal of full communion.

The real progress made by dialogue necessitates a real change in discipline and practice, and we can see this in the (rather conservative) shifts from the Code to the Directory to John Paul II to Francis.

Anyone “confused” by the pope’s comments has probably not kept up with the development of Church teaching in and since the Council, and is unaware of the even previously existing conditions (e.g., danger of death) that allowed a non-Catholic to receive communion from a Catholic minister.

What has changed with Pope Francis is that the ‘norm’ is now to take a more generous reading of the law – one in which the hermeneutic is mercy and the care of souls – rather than a rigorously constrained reading or a hermeneutic of triumphalism. This is possible without even offering a change in the law itself.


Pope Francis: Lutherans at Catholic Eucharist

pope lutheran.jpg

Rev. Jens-Martin Kruse with Pope Francis

During a visit to Rome’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Pope Francis was asked about conditions under which a Lutheran could receive communion at her husband’s Catholic church.

Question:  My name is Anke de Bernardinis and, like many people in our community, I’m married to an Italian, who is a Catholic Christian. We’ve lived happily together for many years, sharing joys and sorrows. And so we greatly regret being divided in faith and not being able to participate in the Lord’s Supper together. What can we do to achieve, finally, communion on this point?

Pope Francis: The question on sharing the Lord’s Supper isn’t easy for me to respond to, above all in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper! I’m scared!

I think of how the Lord told us when he gave us this command to “do this in memory of me,” and when we share the Lord’s Supper, we recall and we imitate the same as the Lord. And there will be the Lord’s Supper, there will be the eternal banquet in the new Jerusalem, but that will be the last one. In the meantime, I ask myself — and don’t know how to respond — what you’re asking me, I ask myself the question. To share the Lord’s banquet: is it the goal of the path or is it the viaticum [provisions] for walking together? I leave that question to the theologians and those who understand.

It’s true that in a certain sense, to share means there aren’t differences between us, that we have the same doctrine – underscoring that word, a difficult word to understand — but I ask myself: but don’t we have the same Baptism? If we have the same Baptism, shouldn’t we be walking together? You’re a witness also of a profound journey, a journey of marriage: a journey really of the family and human love and of a shared faith, no? We have the same Baptism.

When you feel yourself to be a sinner – and I feel more of a sinner – when your husband feels a sinner, you go to the Lord and ask forgiveness; your husband does the same and also goes to the priest and asks absolution. I’m healed to keep alive the Baptism. When you pray together, that Baptism grows, becomes stronger. When you teach your kids who Jesus is, why Jesus came, what Jesus did for us, you’re doing the same thing, whether in the Lutheran language or the Catholic one, but it’s the same. The question: and the [Lord’s] Supper? There are questions that, only if one is sincere with oneself and with the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own. See for yourself. This is my body. This is my blood. Do it in remembrance of me – this is a viaticum that helps us to journey on.

I once had a great friendship with an Episcopalian bishop who went a little wrong – he was 48 years old, married, two children. This was a discomfort to him – a Catholic wife, Catholic children, him a bishop. He accompanied his wife and children to Mass on Sunday, and then went to worship with his community. It was a step of participation in the Lord’s Supper. Then he went forward, the Lord called him, a just man. To your question, I can only respond with a question: what can I do with my husband, because the Lord’s Supper accompanies me on my path?

It’s a problem each must answer, but a pastor-friend once told me: “We believe that the Lord is present there, he is present. You all believe that the Lord is present. And so what’s the difference?” — “Eh, there are explanations, interpretations.” Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism. “One faith, one baptism, one Lord.” This is what Paul tells us, and then take the consequences from there. I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more.

Translation from Edward Pentin at National Catholic Register:

Breaking Bad Liturgical Habits

George Weigel wrote this column in January for ‘the other’ NCR that recently piqued my liturgical antennae.

He has good points and bad, mixed together in an acerbic style that is by now pretty well known. It got me thinking about my own version, offered in contraposition and in complementarity, based especially on some of the “liturgical abuses” I have witnessed in Rome, as well as some of the “best practices”.

It has happened on occasion, even here in Rome, that I have been accused of being a true liturgist – in the sense of the old joke about the difference between terrorists and liturgists. I offer these as suggestions merely, humbly, and invite, as always, critique and commentary.

Some of the basic points I agree with Weigel are these:

“there is no “reform of the reform” to be found in lace surplices, narrow fiddleback chasubles and massive candles.”

Another great sage of liturgical aesthetic, the clock from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, put it this way: “If it ain’t Baroque, don’t fix it!” We are as done with Baroque as we are with orange shag carpeting and felt banners, thank God. Let us not idealize one period of the past at the expense of the entirety of Tradition, and the need for ongoing aggiornamento. Ecclesia semper purificanda, after all.

“Catholics who embrace the truth of Catholic faith do not enjoy clericalism.”

Clericalism is a systemic and personal sin that ought to be rigorously avoided and rooted out of ecclesial structures like the cancer that it is… but, that is a topic for another post.

“Music directors and pastors: As a general rule, sing all the verses of a processional or recessional hymn.”

Weigel seems to conflate his personal musical taste with some objective sense of quality, and goes on to express this rather rudely and without perspective – Compared to the angelic chorus, even the best of Palestrina, Bach, and Mozart, would sound like a ‘treacly confection’. That aside, this is one way we can remember we have left chronos and entered kairos.

I would just add that songs should be singable, for the most part, though there is room for a reflection or meditative hymn, it would be a tragedy if the entire liturgy were converted into a concert given by professional choirs in polyphonic chant that is impossible to follow without expert training. It is not without reason, and this is one of them, that more than one cardinal expressed to us while visiting Notre Dame that the Triduum liturgy there was done better than in Rome!

“Sacred space [sanctuary] is different from other space; the inside of the church is different from the narthex.”

True… but how many churches do not have adequate narthex space? Most I would say. At St. Brendan the Navigator in Bothell, WA, there is an excellent example of good use of narthex and sanctuary/nave in the same building.

He also offers a few points that I disagree, or would attenuate

“Celebrants (not ‘presiders’)”

Weigel channels Ratzinger when he insists that presider be called celebrant. The problem is simple, though. The entire assembly celebrates the Eucharist, but only the bishop (or presbyter-delegate) presides. This language goes back much further than that of “celebrant”, and we can see the title in Justin Martyr, before presbyters are even allowed to take on the role.

“Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist are vastly overused in U.S. parishes, a practice that risks of signaling that the Mass is a matter of the self-worshipping community celebrating and feeding itself.”

There may be some parishes where extraordinary ministers of communion are overused, but when I see hundreds upon hundreds of communion ministers at St. Peter’s here in Rome, whether priests, deacons, or extraordinary, it is hard to say that anywhere else overuses them. Most use what they need. And there is no connection between having too many communion ministers and making the mass a self-worshipping act. This is a nonsensical and unsupported assertion.

“no one outside of those in holy orders should “bless” in a liturgical context”

This is a matter under the authority of the local bishop, as legislator and liturgist of his diocese. Offering a blessing at communion, especially to those not in full communion, but who desire it, is a significant practice that should not be lost.

“And while we’re on the subject of the congregation, might we all reconsider our vesture at Sunday Mass?”

Absolutely. The entire assembly, at least those fully initiated with Baptism, Confirmation, and admission to the Eucharist, should be vested in albs, the white baptismal garment. Can you imagine the effect, if all the initiated were actually vested?

Bad habits in Rome

When in Rome, do as I want to do.

The cynical observer, or the realist, will tell you that the Romans do pretty much whatever they want. But when you come to Rome, observe the official practice, and the actual practices, and try not to impose your practice from Milan, Seattle, or London upon the community here. Observe and adapt.

At the same time, just because (some) Romans do it does not make it right. Here are a few observed practices of which I am wary:

Communion from the tabernacle during the liturgy.

The ideal situation is that each Eucharist should consecrate enough bread and wine for all those present, and maybe just enough for the sick and homebound. Ideal is not always pastorally possible. However, here, you can frequently see only one host consecrated, for the presider, and then everyone else served from the tabernacle.

Communion under one kind only.

While minimally sufficient, it should normally be under both species, or it lacks the fullness of the sacramental sign. Further, it is the choice of the communicant to receive on the tongue or in the hand. The latter is more ancient, the former is canonically the norm here in Italy. I have addressed these points here and here.

Confessions during the liturgy.

It is one thing in a giant basilica where you have mass in some side chapel, and confessions going on a football field away in another part of the building. Quite another when the 18th century wooden confessional is cozied up so close to the pews in the parish church that you can hear the penitent while you are sitting in reflective silence after the homily. When the liturgy begins, no other sacrament or devotion should be happening in the sanctuary, unless it is a part of the liturgy.

Many altars, many breads, no body.

One of the beautiful tragedies, or tragically beautiful moments, is if you go to St. Peter’s early in the morning (this happens rarely for me), and you see dozens of priests at dozens of altars all offering the Mass, separately, and with at most one assistant. It is easy to think of all the places in the world where people go days, weeks, or months without access to the Eucharistic liturgy. But it also begs the question, why not concelebrate? Why not have one mass, so that the few morning pilgrims could all join as well? Is a liturgy without the presence of the Church even a liturgy, or a private devotion of the presbyter?

Excessive Concelebrating.

I never thought I would agree with the Lefebvrists on much beyond the basic dogmas of the faith. But they have a certain point here, though for different reasons. Imagine a liturgy with twenty people. Fifteen are vested and concelebrating, and five are in ‘plainclothes’ and simply celebrating. Is it really necessary to have so many concelebrants? A priest may feel obligated to celebrate the Eucharist every day, and this is a worthy thing, but he need not do so vested every time, especially in such a scenario. There could be the presider, a deacon, and as many concelebrants as needed for communion, or for a preacher, etc. With occasional exceptions, less is more.

We stand for prayer, not for announcements.

The most elegant remedy to this I have seen is that the Prayer after Communion be offered at the end of the Communion procession, rather than at the beginning fo the concluding rites. That is, remain standing (or kneeling, or sitting, as the local case may be) for the entire communion procession, and as soon as everyone has received, the presider offers the communion prayer. Only then do we sit in silence (or with meditative hymn) for the post-communion reflection. Then, while still seated, any announcements can be made.

Christmas and Easter.

Midnight Mass is at Midnight. Not 10pm. Even if the pope does it. Then, you can still use the midnight readings, just do not call it midnight mass! At Easter, do not do as the Romans did last year…. At the Vigil, the lights came on entirely too early. Actually overheard behind me  “Well, that rather destroys the effect, doesn’t it?” or variations, from more than one voice. Let the service of light continue as long as it can, the readings can mostly be done in darkness, with only the paschal candle to light the ambo.

Communion under one kind

The Lay Centre welcomed Monsignor Nicola Filipi, the secretary to Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Vicar General of Rome. He is, if you will, the vicar general’s vicar general. Don Nicola joins us each year with an update about the life of the Roman Church – and no, I do not mean the Catholic Church as a whole there, but the properly called Church of Rome – the local metropolitan diocese.

I have mentioned elsewhere the great liturgical variety I see in Rome, certainly in respect the kinds of things that would have self-appointed liturgical police crying foul. But we experienced something perfectly legit, yet rather unusual, so it is worth commenting.

Much ado is made here about communion under both species – as in, they tend to forget that this is the norm.* In fact, most of Italy does not offer the cup to the assembly, or, if they do, they offer intinction. Either case is odd for someone coming from a local church where the normative value of offering and receiving under both kinds has always been strongly emphasized. At the lay centre we normally have both offered, but accommodate presider preference.

With a small community, we also try to prepare exact numbers of hosts, and while the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the chapel, it is usually just a single host in a lunette or small monstrance withing the tabernacle. While this is more faithful to the norms of the Church, it is unusual in Italy, where parishes sometimes have so many reserved hosts that they will celebrate the Eucharist and then offer communion from the tabernacle – a clear liturgical no-no.

We had an unexpected number of guests that evening, and Don Nicola had decided to offer the cup by intinction. When it came to the last two in the communion procession, we were out of consecrated hosts. Turning to the tabernacle and finding only a single host in the lunette, he opted instead to offer the cup alone.

Communion under one kind only is sacramentally sufficient, albeit liturgically lacking, and foreseen only when there is no alternative or if there is some grave reason – like wheat allergy or alcoholism – to avoid the other species. Often in Italy it takes the form of the host only, and not the cup. It was nice to see the liturgical principle put into practice for exactly and only the reason it was intended, however.

What i find interesting is the choice to leave something in the tabernacle rather than offer it as communion.


*Sviluppo: I have been informed by an eminent italian canon lawyer, that in fact, the norm for communion in Italy, as promulgated by the national bishops’ conference, is the host alone. The legal norm is not the only norm, however. I have seen the situation best described by Paul Ford thus: “It is, in truth, acknowledged by many eminent authorities, that the Sacrament, as thus administered to the laity, loses a part of its significance, and may lose a part of its grace also, not of the grace of salvation, but of the grace of sanctification.” The sacramental norm, if you will, is both kinds, while the legal norm in this case is the host only.

A Tridentine wedding and “How not to” homiletics

Two friends of mine were recently married, according to the “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite, better known as the Tridentine Rite. It was the first nuptial mass of its kind in Rome since Pope Benedict XVI published Summorum Pontificum and established a personal parish in the Eternal City for the followers of the pre-Vatican II liturgies.

This is one of the unanticipated gifts of being in Rome, being able to time travel and see what the various sacraments and rites were like for the four centuries before Vatican II went digging around the scriptural and patristic sources to bring back the older traditions while simultaneously brining everything “up to date”.

It was a beautiful day. The weather was perfect, the liturgical chant was beautifully sung, the bride was radiant, the bridesmaids beautiful, and the reception was a masterpiece of hospitality and conviviality. The liturgy was observed at church of Santissima Trinita dei Peligrini, and the reception was hosted in the gardens of the Passionist Retreat of John and Paul, home of the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas. About 70 guests were present, some from as far as Vancouver, BC or Johannesburg, South Africa.

The people I met were wonderful, and though I did not get as much time to get to know the wedding party – between their hard work preparing for the wedding, and their deserved socializing afterwards – I had some great conversations and met some fascinating people.

It was, overall, one of the most beautiful wedding weekends to which I have been invited.

It is therefore all the more to the credit of the bride and groom, and their assembled guests, that they did not let the one black mark on the day ruin the rest: It was the worst wedding homily I have ever heard. I can honestly say it nearly had me in tears.

(I debated whether to write about this or not – hopefully my choice to do so is not interpreted as disrespect to my friends who were married, but serves as a lesson for those of us in preaching ministries!)

The priest began by comparing marriage to investing in the stock market – risks and rewards. I do not find financial analogies to personal relationships generally helpful, but he might have been able to move on to something meaningful. Instead, the meandering sermon – decidedly not a genuine homily – stumbled from one faux pas to another.

The proper epistle for the nuptial mass in the Tridentine form is the passage from Ephesians that admonishes “wives be submissive to your husbands, husband love your wife.” This was the starting point for an anecdote that seemed to be titled “how not to preach on this passage”. He made his point, but probably not the way he intended:

“Let me tell you about the wrong way to read this passage. I was at a parish in the diocese of Rochester [New York] when this was the reading of the day. Now for those of you not from the U.S., or not in the ecclesiastical scene, Rochester is one of the five worst dioceses in the country. …”

Anybody want to bet he was thinking of Seattle among the other four? Rochester’s bishop usually gets critiqued for, among other ‘liberal tendencies’, his support of lay people in ministry. Hmm… strike one against a crowd of lay students at pontifical universities preparing for ministry.

“… the priest could have talked about the proper attitude of husbands and wives, but instead started talking about the ‘context’ and ‘historical criticism’ of the text! As if what scripture said then and what it says now are ‘historically conditioned’ and must be understood differently! Of course, this priest was a Jesuit, and you cannot expect anything orthodox from them!”

So… actual scripture study and the Jesuits in one blow. Poor Biblicum students.

“… Now, I am not saying that wives should be slaves to their husbands, like the Muslims believe….”

And our resident imam, friend and housemate of the bride, sitting right in front of me. Ouch.

“… there is something the Muslims get right. Their women wear a veil. Here too, we see a veil. It marks what is set aside, what is restricted. The tabernacle is veiled, to show that only the priest can enter it, just like the bride is veiled …”

Thankfully, he did not explicitly complete that thought, but the parallel was not lost. A little uncomfortable, but not quite offensive like the previous statements.

Then the meandering somehow landed on Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, on which it stayed for a while. I honestly cannot remember what the point of that was, I was trying too hard to keep a straight face by focusing on the image of the Holy Trinity above the altar. The whole thing went on for about 20 minutes, though i felt like an eternity.

As someone intimately connected with the wedding mentioned afterwards, “there was nothing about love, nothing really about marriage… what the hell was he thinking!?”

At least the pastor, during the “admonishment on the responsibilities of the married state” at the exchange of vows before the mass, spoke of “procreation and the upbringing of offspring”. Maybe not how I would have put it, but more apropos than purely partisan preaching!

Holy Thursday in Rome

The Paschal Triduum in Rome this year sees even more than its usual number of pilgrims and visitors. In part this is because of the lateness of the season – in two centuries, it will be this late or later only thrice – and in part because of early arrivals for the beatification of John Paul II next Sunday, May 1.

Given a shortage of tickets to papal events, a group of friends – from the Lay Centre, students in Rome and visitors from the States – opted for the neighboring parish basilica of Santa Maria in Domnica, alias the Navicella, for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper after an early dinner.

Our local parish, animated by the Communione e Liberazione movement, the church is beautifully mosaiced, based on an ancient site, and normal Sunday liturgy includes a full choir of young voices, so our expectations were a little high. We did want something shorter than the papal liturgy down the street at the Cathedral, but none of us were quite prepared for what felt more like a daily mass with a couple extra bits added on – the entire liturgy, including a period of adoration at the altar of repose, was finished in 55 minutes.

There was no choir, no psalmist – even the Gloria was merely recited. The washing of the feet (of a dozen teen and preteen boys) barely took five minutes. The only minister of the mass was the presiding priest – even for the procession to the altar of repose the thurifer and crucifer were pulled form the assembly and dressed in ‘civvies’, rather than an alb (or cassock and surplice).

On one hand, there is something nice about not having to wait for three hours to get into a three hour liturgy. On the other hand, the liturgy looses something when, as one visitor said, it seems as if the presider has more important things to do afterwards!

Still, the altar of repose was tastefully prepared, with a simple and elegant wooden tabernacle. The abbreviated liturgy left us four hours to visit and pray at as many churches as desired before midnight; the goal was the traditional seven, culminating at the Pantheon, which was reputed to have one of the most beautiful altars prepared in the city.

(Some friends just reported on their evening at Trinità dei Monti at the top of the Spanish Steps, as one of the most beautiful liturgies ever experienced – something to keep in mind next year!)

Pictures pending – but here’s a schedule of our mini-pilgrimage:

+         Santa Maria in Cosmedin – closed

+         San Giorgio in Valabro – closed

+         San Nicola in Carcere – open

+         Santa Maria in Campitelli – open

+         Santa Maria in Ara Coeli – open

+         San Marco – closed

+         Cappella della Madonnella – open

+         Chiesa del Gesù – closed

+         Santa Maria Sopra Minerva – open

+         Sant’Ignazio – closed

+         Santa Maria ad Martyres (Pantheon) – closed

+         San Luigi dei Francese – open

+         Sant’Agnese in Agone – closed

+         Sant’Andrea della Valle – open

The intended grand finale of the Pantheon was closed, as was the Jesuit headquarters of the Gesù!

The French national church of San Luigi probably was the most evocative – you enter a completely dark church, only a small light in a distant chapel visible. As you stumble your way to its source, you see a single light illuminating a simple altar reserving the Blessed Sacrament under both species, tucked into the Contarelli Chapel, famous as each of sides is adorned with masterpieces of Caravaggio: the Calling of St. Matthew, the Inspiration of St. Matthew, and the Martyrdom of St. Matthew. With an entire church in black, and this small corner in light, it was as if Caravaggio himself had planned the entire experience.

San Nicola’s altar of repose was surrounded by about fifty candles, and attended by a solitary monk. Santa Maria in Compitelli was a church I had never visited before, and beheld there an 11th century icon and one of the rare baroque altars that actually looks good. Santa Maria in Ara Coeli had candles along the stairs leading up the Capitoline hill to the entrance and an altar of repose filled with flowers. Madonella is almost Reformed in its whitewashed and modern simplicity, and Sopra Minerva offered no surprises. At Sant’Andrea some very modern, interpretive paintings of the Stations of the Cross almost distracted before one could get to the altar of repose, but offered a welcome end to our evening’s sojourn in any case.

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