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Sunday, June 21, 2009

The First Priority in Creating a Culture of Life

(Normally, posts here are directly concerned with the RH Bill. However, these two essays are so important to the pro-life movement that I have decided to post these on the blog. It is necessary that, in going against the RH bill and the contraceptive mindset, we should also capture the minds and hearts of our people by presenting them with a Christian alternative to the secular mindset so prevalent today. For this, the celebration of the sacred liturgy in all its glory is necessary.)

FIRST ESSAY: A quote from Part IV of Steve Jalvesac's "The Broken Windows in the US Catholic Church"

Excerpts from LifeSite News:

November 28, 2008 ( - It is often an overwhelming trial for a faithful ... Catholic bishop to begin the process of undoing the damage of up to 40 or more years of severe lack of leadership or even corruption in his diocese. Nevertheless, it is important for all citizens that Catholics clean up these diocesan problems.
If this were to happen Catholics would once again play a strong positive role in the culture, rather than the current situation in which Catholics are often no different than others on critical issues. Who to trust and where to begin are always the big questions for a reform-minded faithful bishop.
The "broken windows" concept could be a useful strategy for a beginning...
1. THE LITURGY. The first of the "broken windows," or signs of disorder that most often communicates a message that no one is in charge or that authority is weak and rules are made to be broken, are the abuses of the liturgy - the formal, very visible ceremonies or rites of the Church.
Why do we start with this one? Because Pope Benedict, in his wisdom, has declared it to be of the highest priority. He has seen that the sense of awe of God, the wonder of His majesty and the faith of the people have been gutted by theologians, pastors and bishops who have given very liberal, unintended interpretations to the documents of the Second Vatican Council. He commented on one occasion about the original intentions of the Council: "Anyone like myself, who was moved by this perception in the time of the Liturgical Movement on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, can only stand, deeply sorrowing, before the ruins of the very things they were concerned for."
It is no accident that many diocesan liturgists have since been found to be serious dissenters and an unusual percentage to be practicing homosexuals. The liturgy has power to form or to deform, to inspire or to corrupt.
The numerous abuses or broken windows on this topic range from the extreme to the more subtle, such as arbitrarily inserting inclusive language (very commonly done) or an otherwise faithful priest not giving communion at mass so that the women extraordinary ministers are not offended by having less of a role. Liturgy has often become entertainment. Probably by far the most widespread violation of Universal Church norms, by both dissident and normally faithful pastors, has been the vastly excessive use of lay Extraordinary Ministers of Communion, who are often wrongly called Ministers of Communion. Despite repeated instructions on this from Rome, pastors and bishops routinely ignore the rules and in doing so send their flocks an especially visible disorder message, that "we are determined to do things our own way" or, that they are too afraid of the feminists in their parish or diocese to do the right thing. To be fair, a lot of the pastors who try to follow this requirement are frequently not only not supported by their bishops but are often even ordered to disregard the Church discipline.

For the broken window strategy to work, not one abuse or liberty with the universal (versus the often inadequate local diocesan or even national conference) liturgical requirements, can be tolerated. Otherwise it cannot work. The priest, deacon and bishop are the teachers and witnesses of fidelity or infidelity to the people at every mass and other liturgical events. Any contradiction by them to what is clearly indicated in a faithful, Vatican approved missal or other text, sends a corrupting message to the people at that event. The message is that authority is what you decide it should be and that Catholics can ignore the order of love that has been prayerfully developed by the Church for the spiritual nurturing of the flock.
So what is a faithful bishop to do? Well, this is the most obvious of all the broken windows and one that can be manageable.
He can first make certain that in his cathedral and at all events directly arranged by his chancery, every single liturgical event would be conducted in a manner that would be approved by the Pope.
He can also do more than the basic requirements by changing the often man-centered emphasis of much of today's interior church arrangements. He can encourage those who wish to receive communion kneeling and on the tongue, as Benedict has made clear he prefers. He can ensure that the music at all events under his immediate control is truly uplifting and reverent, with many traditional hymns, which Pope Benedict has also emphasized ( And finally, he can ensure that the cathedral building itself truly inspires prayer, is clearly seen and felt as a place of Catholic worship of God and at all appropriate times facilitates silent prayer for those who come to fulfill that need.
After that is well under way the bishop could begin to regularly instruct all his priests on the importance of these changes and begin to have them implemented first by those pastors who he is confident will follow his instructions. Then, parish by parish, school by school, he should cajole and inspire imitation of his faithful example throughout the diocese. What does that have to do with Catholics voting for pro-abortion, pro-homosexual politicians? A lot. It is all about restoring a unity of understanding of what it truly means to worship God. From that eventually follows a tendency to desire to go further and to begin to live and act as Christians in the community with resulting improvement to the culture.
There is far more that could be said on this issue, but the main thing is that repairing the many broken windows in the liturgy in most dioceses is feasible and will likely lead to considerable positive effect on the more overwhelming problems. That is how the broken window strategy works.
2. DIOCESAN LITURGICAL TEXTS AND HYMNALS It is up to the bishop to approve or disapprove liturgical texts and Mass Hymnals used in his diocese. This has been a serious source of problems for many years with rampant use of feminist, gender neutralized, politically correct and ideologically altered texts weakening the faith and fidelity of Catholics...
by Deborah Morlani

Many Mass-Going Catholics Support the Culture of Death

A recent survey from October 2008, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and completed by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, found that 79% of Catholics who regularly attend Mass are supportive of abortion to some degree, varying from all cases to at least certain cases; this despite the Catholic teaching that the intentional killing of an unborn child by abortion is always evil and that there are no exceptions to this. What these surveys reveal is a fact that many faithful Catholics are already only too aware: that many of their fellow Catholics do not conform to Church teaching and support the culture of death to some degree, be it through contracepting, sterilization, abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, IVF, or so on. In looking at the results of these polls, not to mention years of personal experience, the question that comes to mind is this: how can Catholics who are going to Mass every week be living and thinking in such contrast to God's moral laws, as taught by the magisterium of the Church? The pro-life message is certainly “out there” and not unknown, so where is the deficiency that allows such a situation to exist and what can we do to address it? To answer these questions we need to consider the root of the problem and the font of Catholic life.
The Liturgy Is the Source and Summit From Which All Else Flows
The Church teaches us that the sacred liturgy is the centre, or font, from which all else flows within the Church; it refers to it as her source and summit. (Sacrosanctum Concilium para. 10) It is this tenet which allowed Pope Benedict XVI, while still a Cardinal, to note that “the Church stands and falls with the liturgy” for when one understands and accepts the central place which the liturgy holds within the life of the Church and her faithful, this clearly follows and should hopefully help us to appreciate the foundational place and importance of the liturgy in a variety of questions.
Returning to the question at hand then, it would not seem a stretch to suggest that an implication of this very centrality is that the culture of life itself also stands and falls with the liturgy. Why, we shall look at momentarily, but given our understanding that the liturgy is the summit from whence all else flows, and given the consideration of the impoverished, or "falling", state of the liturgy in so many parishes, it should perhaps come as little surprise that there would be a coinciding “falling” of the culture of life – to use the image of Ratzinger.
Putting Our Own House In Order: A More Serious Look at the Liturgy by the Catholic Pro-life Movement
I would propose, particularly to those actively involved within the pro-life movement (of which all Catholics, clergy, laity, and religious, should consider themselves involved to some extent), that the sacred liturgy needs to be looked at much more seriously as a significant foundation and tool for beginning to build the culture of life among fellow Catholics. Pro-life homilies, pro-life prayer intentions and social activism generally are all important let’s be clear, but they don't address the deeper, foundational problem that lay at the root of this issue; namely, the lack of a sense of God that exists not only within our culture, but even within our parishes. Before we can ever hope to bring about a conversion of the culture to a culture of life – and we are speaking, not merely of the changing of laws, but ultimately of the need for conversion -- we must first put our own house in order. If we understand and accept the teaching of the Church as regards the central importance of the liturgy and its relationship to doctrine, then surely we must neither ignore the fact that deficiencies there will lead to deficiencies elsewhere, nor that it is also an important place to begin to assert the solution.
The Necessity of God-Centred Liturgies: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi (The law of prayer is the law of belief is the law of living.)
In Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II taught that the root cause of the culture of death is a loss of the sense of God and, in the same vein, one will note that Pope Benedict XVI has been working quite intently to bring back the sense of transcendence and God-centredness within our liturgies; in short, to bring back a sense of God. So it is that a consistent theme emerges and also a consistent recognition of a problem within our churches today. The Holy Father knows well that if God is obscured within the sacred liturgy – the very place that is not only the source and summit of the Church, but also the heart, soul and primary point of contact for the faithful -- then it is likely to follow that God will be absent or obscured in the lives of the faithful as well. Consequently, this lack of sense of the Divine can lead to living a humanistic or self-centred existence which further leads to a lost sense of the sacredness of man; without a Creator, man becomes a mere organism in the vast universe of organisms that can be manipulated and used for any kind of fantasy by anyone who is stronger or more powerful.
It is well known that many parishes today have become more centred upon themselves as a community than being clearly centred upon God – what Ratzinger has called the “self-enclosed circle”. Many parishes are not following the authorized liturgical texts and rubrics -- often out of a misguided sense of "pastoral" creativity, or even simply out of ignorance. Nor do they sufficiently consider (let alone express) those elements which lend a sense of transcendence to the worship of God, particularly as expressed through the medium of beauty. To some these might seem rather unimportant surface considerations, but they are not. The sacred liturgy and doctrine are intertwined and the experiential dimension of the liturgy is a profound moment for catechesis and conversion. Accordingly, when there is problematic approach to the liturgy, and when unauthorized innovations are introduced, there can be a deficiency as well as a coinciding distortion of Catholic belief passed on to the faithful, and further a loss in the power of the liturgy to move the human heart and mind towards God.
By contrast, the sacred liturgy, when celebrated well and focused on God, is where the building of the culture of life begins for within the liturgy one experiences and encounters the perfection of the culture of life from the giver of life Himself, God our Creator. It is through this deep encounter with God in the liturgy that we witness and learn a perfect love that is self-giving and self-sacrificing; from that flows the possibility of conversion of heart and the reciprocal love for God in giving of our lives to Him and His Church just as Christ gave His life for us, a sacrificial reality which is perpetuated upon our altars at every Mass. From that love for God and desire to serve Him naturally flows an ability to better move outside of ourselves and love our neighbour, seeing their lives as inherently of value. Therefore, if we are to build a culture of life within our parishes and serve as leaven for our culture, the sacred liturgy must be oriented to God in all things, both interiorly and exteriorly. The liturgy must be celebrated in accord with the authorized texts and rubrics so that we might avoid obscuring Catholic doctrine or falling into a subjectivist mentality. The ceremonies must be reverent and beautiful, speaking to the worship of the Lord and the sacredness of what occurs, moving and focusing us accordingly. Finally, there should be liturgical catechesis for the faithful to help them to understand the greater meaning, focus and sacrificial reality of the Mass, emphasizing its primary end as the worship of God through the sacrifice of the Cross, including through postures and gestures, signs and symbols.
Pope Benedict XVI Leads by Example
The Pope has consistently written of and witnessed to the importance of both interior and exterior dimensions which orient the sacred liturgy toward God. He has led by example in directing how certain exterior forms contribute to a God-centered liturgy, such as through the “Benedictine altar arrangement” with a central Crucifix; his celebration of Mass ad orientem in the Sistine Chapel; the use of beautiful sacred music and vestments within the liturgy; and finally, by re-introducing kneeling for Holy Communion in his own liturgies. Moreover, the Holy Father has emphasized the importance of interiorly directing our minds and hearts toward God through mystagogical catechesis (meaning the teaching of the mysteries of the Faith) so that we can more fully know God through beauty and the sacred mysteries experienced in the liturgy and further be drawn into a more profound encounter with the Divine which can lead to a deeper conversion.
In Conclusion
To conclude, let us recall the teaching of the Church about the centrality of the liturgy and how all flows from it. Let us also follow the example of the Holy Father in addressing any crisis among Catholics first in looking at the liturgy and never neglecting it as a central part of the solution. Indeed, everything that happens within the sacred liturgy matters and all that is done to lead the faithful closer to God will ultimately work toward building the culture of life, which will necessarily come through, not simply legal means, but conversion of heart and mind to God.
Postscript: Addressing Some Common Objections
As a postscript, it would seem important to address a few common objections that arise whenever there is an attempt to assert the central importance of the liturgy in all its forms and aspects.
One objection is summarized by the sentiment that "all that really matters at Mass is that Our Lord is present in the Eucharist. These other matters are ultimately not of significant importance. They are simply nice-to-have’s or just a matter of taste.” This is a common objection that often comes up from many Catholics, and even some priests, when attempting to explain the importance of the sacred liturgy as though validity, sacramentality or Eucharistic piety is all that is of concern. Obviously they are of concern, but this view is not in accord with the Church's teaching and is based on what Ratzinger has called “abstract sacramental theology” and “reductionism”. Everything in the liturgy matters which is why the Church regulates it accordingly. In that regard, our focus cannot merely be upon validity or receiving and adoring the Blessed Sacrament, it must be deeper, and it must take more serious consideration of the Mass in all its aspects and dimensions and the implication of those aspects and dimensions. The teaching of the Church and the teaching of our Holy Father speak contrary to such an assertion.
A second objection is the suggestion that the liturgy really doesn't affect whether or not Catholics follow the Church's teachings on contraception, abortion, and so forth. This also does not follow, for if, as the Church teaches, the sacred liturgy is the source and the summit, the font, from which everything else flows, this clearly has the implication that what flows from the liturgy will also likely be manifest in the Catholic faithful who are present, for good or for ill. How could it have such importance and influence and not have such effects?
Another objection might be the suggestion that doctrinal catechesis through study, preaching and such methods is far more important in the building the culture of life than what goes on in the sacred liturgy, but this fails to consider some basic realities. First, liturgy and doctrine are inseparable; what goes on in the liturgy is catechetical in itself. It is an experiential form of catechesis, and accordingly, very powerful. Second, the liturgy is the first and primary source of catechesis as it is a living experience of the Catholic faith that draws one into an encounter with God. It is there that most Catholics come into the most prolonged and profound contact with their faith and it is through this means that they are most impacted and potentially moved, making them accordingly more disposed to receive more intellectual forms of catechesis. "By its nature, the liturgy can be pedagogically effective in helping the faithful to enter more deeply into the mystery being celebrated. That is why, in the Church's most ancient tradition, the process of Christian formation always had an experiential character."(Sacramentum Caritatis, para. 64)
A final objection might be that good liturgy doesn't guarantee that a Catholic will be pro-life and poor liturgy doesn't mean that a Catholic won't be pro-life. Of course this is true in point of fact, but while it may not be an absolute guarantee, and while exceptions can surely always be found, it does not change the fact of the central importance of the liturgy in Catholic life and faith, nor does it change the teaching of the Church on this matter.

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