Category Archives: Ecclesiology

Dec 24 – Christmas Midnight Mass Sermon by St Francis de Sales

-Adoration of the Shepherds by Dutch painter Matthias Stomer, 1632, please click on the image for greater detail

“Among the solemnities of Holy Church there are three which have been celebrated at all times and which have their original source in that great feast of Passover which was observed in the Old Law.

These three feasts are all called Pasch, or Passage, or Passover (Ex. 12:11). Today’s feast was instituted to commemorate Our Lord’s passage from His Divinity to our humanity.

The second passage is that from His Passion and death to His Resurrection, His passage from mortality to immortality, which we celebrate all during Holy Week and at Easter.

The third passage is celebrated at Pentecost, the day on which Our Lord adopted the Gentiles (Cf. Acts 2:17, 39) and permitted them to pass from infidelity to the happiness of becoming His well-beloved children, the greatest happiness possible for the Church. All these feasts find their source in today’s mystery.

But you may say at this point that it is not usual to preach at night. And I reply that it was indeed the custom in the primitive church, while it was in its first flower and vigor.

St. Gregory bears witness to this in his homily for this day. The early Christians even said the three nocturns of Matins separately, rising three times during the night for this purpose.

Moreover, they went to choir seven times a day to recite the Office, thereby fulfilling verse 164 of Psalm 118 (119). St. Augustine says that they even preached three times on this feast: first at Midnight Mass, then at the Mass, and finally at the Mass during the day.

So great was the fervor of those early Christians that nothing wearied them. The least among them was of grater value than the best of religious of today.

We have become so cold since those early days that we must now shorten the Mass, the Office, and sermons.

But this is not to the point. Rather, I intend to speak to you first of which the Church sets before us this day, and then of what we should hope for and do in light of this faith.

If I do not finish all that I want to say I shall do so later in the day, if God gives us the time.

Before beginning my discourse I wish to remind you that I like to use analogies when I preach. I will do so here, too.

Now in all that we do or plan, if we are wise we keep its purpose or goal in mind (Ecclus. [Sir.] 7:40 [36]), for we should have one.

For example, if someone intends to build a house or a palace he must first consider whether it is to be a lodging for a vine-dresser or peasant or if it is for a lord, since obviously he would use entirely different plans depending on the rank of the person who is to live there.

Now the Eternal Father did just that when He build this world. He intended to create it for the Incarnation of His Son, the Eternal Word.

The end or goal of His work was thus its beginning, for Divine Wisdom had foreseen from all eternity that His Word would assume our nature in coming to earth.

This was His intent even before Lucifer and the world were created and our first parents sinned.

Our true and certain tradition holds that sixteen hundred twenty-two years ago Our Lord came to this world and, in assuming our nature, became man.

Thus we are celebrating the Savior’s birth on earth. But before speaking of that birth let us say something of the Word’s divine and eternal birth.

The Father eternally begets His Son, who is like Him and co-eternal with Him. He had no beginning, being in all things equal to His Father.

Yet we speak of the son being born for us from the Father’s bosom, from His substance, as we speak of the rays coming forth from the bosom of the sun, even though the sun and its rays are but one and the same substance.

We are forced to speak thus, recognizing the inadequacy of our words. Were we angels we would be able to speak of God in a far more adequate and excellent way.

Alas, we are only a little dust, children who really do not know what we are talking about. The Son then, begotten of the Father, proceeds from the Father without occupying any other place.

He is born in Heaven of His Father, without a mother. As sole origin of the Most Blessed Trinity the Father remains the Virgin of virgins.

On earth the Son is born of His Mother, Our Lady, without a father. Let us say a word about these two births, for which we have true and certain proofs, as I said a while ago.

The Evangelist (Lk. 1:35) assures us that the Divine Word became flesh in the most holy Virgin’s womb when the angel announced to her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her.

This is not, of course, to say that in Jesus Christ there are two persons.

In the hypostatic union, the Word became flesh is true God and true man, and this without any separation, from the moment of His Conception.

Some examples may help. Naturalists tell us that honey is made of a certain gum called “manna,” which falls from the sky, and unites or mixes with flowers which in turn draw their substance from the earth.

In joining together, these two substances result in the one honey. In our Lord and Master, Divinity has similarly united our nature with His own, and God has made us sharers of the Divine nature in some fashion (2 Peter 1:4), for He was made man like us (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 4:15).

Note that there is a difference between honey collected from thyme and all other kinds. It is much more excellent than that called heraclean, which is made from the aconite and other flowers.

As soon as we taste it we recognize that it is form thyme, because it is both bitter and sweet. Heraclean honey, on the other hand, causes death.

It is similar with Our Lord’s sacred humanity. Springing from Mary’s virginal soil, His humanity is very different from ours, which is wholly tainted by corruption and sin.

Indeed, because the Eternal Father willed His only-begotten Son to be the Head and absolute Lord of all creatures (Col. 1:15–18), He willed that the most holy Virgin should be the most excellent of all creatures, since He had chosen her from all eternity to be the Mother of His Divine Son.

In truth, Mary’s sacred womb was a mystical hive in which the Holy Spirit formed this honeycomb wither most pure blood.

Further, the Word created Mary and was born of her, just as the bee makes honey and honey the bee, for one never sees a bee without honey nor honey without a bee.

At His birth we have very clear proofs of Our Lord’s Divinity. Angels descend from Heaven and announce to the shepherds that a Savior is born (Luke 2:8–14) to them. Magi come to adore Him (Matt. 2:1–11).

This clearly shows us that He was more than man, just as, on the contrary, His moaning as He lies in His manger shivering from the cold shows us that He was truly man.

Let us consider the Eternal Father’s goodness. Had He so desired He could have created His Son’s humanity as He did that of our first parents, or even given Him an angelic nature, for it was in His power to do so.

Had he willed to do so Our Lord would not have been of our nature. We would not then have had any alliance with Him.

But His goodness was such that He made Himself our brother in order that He might both give us an example (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:11–17) and render us sharers in His glory.

It was for this reason that He willed to be of Abraham’s seed, for the most holy Virgin was indeed of Abraham’s race, for it is said of her: Abraham and his seed (Lk. 1:55; Rom. 1:3; Gal. 3:16).

I leave you at the feet of this blessed Mother and Child so that, like little bees, you may gather the milk and honey that flow from these holy mysteries and her chaste breasts, while waiting for me to continue, if God grants us the grace and gives us the time. I beg Him to bless us with His benediction. Amen.”

The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Advent and Christmas, pp. 82–86.


Traditionis Custodes 2

-reverencing the altar, please click on the image for greater detail

-by Joseph Shaw

“When Pope Francis published his apostolic letter, given motu proprio, Traditionis Custodes, on Friday, July 16, he expected the document’s sweeping restrictions on celebration of the traditional Latin Mass to come into immediate effect. But bishops struggled to implement the motu proprio’s strictures for that very weekend. The most that could be done in many dioceses was to give hasty permissions for whatever already existed, meaning that many Latin Masses, particularly in the English-speaking world, received a lifeline. Since then, a good number of these hasty permissions have turned into less hasty ones—but even this has changed the situation in subtle ways, and some bishops have taken things in a more restrictive direction.

A test case is provided by Abp. Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool in England, who issued a formal decree implementing Traditionis Custodes, listing the churches where the 1962 Missal has been a regular feature in recent years and allowing them to continue to offer the traditional Mass. He notes that some of these locations are parish churches, and while this appears to conflict with Traditionis Custodes Article 3.2 (explicitly forbidding parish churches to celebrate the traditional Mass), he grants them permission to continue in any case, using his prerogative under Canon 87 to derogate from the law of the Church for the good of souls.

The Latin Mass Society’s Canonical Guidance pointed out bishops’ power to do this, but it was no secret, and many bishops in the U.S. and elsewhere have used it in exactly this way. Whereas it might be quite easy to find non-parochial churches in Italy, where in the historic city centers there seem to be churches on every street corner, this is not so elsewhere. Pope Francis himself, asked about this issue by some French bishops on their ad limina visits to Rome, seemed relaxed about it.

On the other hand, Abp. McMahon’s decree suggests that where permission has not been given explicitly, the celebration of the 1962 Mass is forbidden. The Canonical Guidance just noted argues that Traditionis Custodes Article 3 regulates the celebration of Mass specifically for formally constituted “groups,” and Article 4 regulates which priests can celebrate the Latin Mass publicly. This leaves open the private celebration of this Mass by any priest, and even its public celebration by priests who have been given personal permission by their bishop, on an indefinite number of occasions and for any who wish to attend, if these do not constitute a “group.”

Despite this, many bishops, like Abp. McMahon, have taken the opportunity to insist on an extraordinarily tight control of celebrations. Unless the bishop sees some special reason for it, new occasional, let alone regular, celebrations of the 1962 Mass are going to be impossible.

The next level of stringency in regulating the celebration of the ancient Mass is when bishops cut down the number of permitted celebrations. This is not demanded by Traditionis Custodes, but bishops certainly have the power to do it. According to the Traditionis Custodes website, out of 243 dioceses about which the site’s operators have data, 182 have not canceled any Masses, and thirty-six have canceled some but not all. This includes eleven in the United States.

Restricting, but not eliminating the availability of the Usus Antiquior gives bishops the opportunity to determine exactly where and by whom it is celebrated, and at the same time impose any conditions they wish on priests.

In the Diocese of Rome, to an otherwise benign document listing churches where the older Mass is currently said, and will continue to be allowed, Rome’s vicar general, Cdl. De Donatis, adds the surprising and—so far—unique provisions that it not be used for the Easter Triduum and that the old Roman Ritual not be used. This is the book containing the formulas for the other sacraments and blessings, which corresponds to the 1962 Missal.

Finally, there is the nuclear option: banning the old Mass altogether, adopted in thirty-six of the dioceses worldwide listed by the Traditionis Custodes website, only two of them in the U.S., with one in England.

Where restrictions are being imposed, it is hard to know whether the bishop is reacting against the clergy, the laity who attend, or the rite itself. The text of Traditionis Custodes and its accompanying letter are themselves unclear about where the problem lies, and this makes applying the documents to bring about what Pope Francis wants to achieve very difficult. Bishops, like the rest of us, are in the dark as to what exactly that is.

The letter refers to the kind of exaggerated traditionalist rhetoric that can more easily be found on the internet than among the real people who attend the Latin Mass, particularly when it is celebrated under the authority of the bishops. Bishops seeking assurances that congregations don’t “doubt the Council” (as Pope Francis expressed it), and pastors giving these assurances, have taken on a ritual quality. What does it mean for a group of people, often drawn from a wide geographical area, to hold a specific theological position? And what exactly is the anathematized claim?

Again, the clamping down on which priests celebrate where might suggest that the central concern is about priests spreading the Vetus Ordo in an uncontrolled manner—even when, in the words of the survey done last year by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is supposed to be the justification for Traditionis Custodes, there is no “true pastoral need.” This would suggest diocesan clergy, as opposed to priests of the Traditional Institutes, whom bishops bring in precisely to attend to a pastoral need. Indeed, so far, apart from being forbidden to use the Roman Ritual in Rome, the Traditional Institutes have escaped the worst of Traditionis Custodes, though this could change at any time. On the other hand, diocesan priests who like the older Mass can’t be accused of doubting the validity of the reformed rites, since they nearly always celebrate them themselves.

The letter that accompanies Traditionis Custodes suggests that the unity of the Church requires “a single and identical prayer”—a statement that must be difficult to interpret for bishops who preside over parishes where Mass is celebrated in many different languages, innumerable liturgical styles, and perhaps several rites: Roman, Greek, Melkite, and so on.

The degree of liturgical diversity in a diocese is largely a matter of demography, which bishops are unable to influence. The exception is the situation with the 1962 Missal, where, even before Traditionis Custodes, how much it was being celebrated was very much the result of diocesan policy. Abp. McMahon, for example, is in the position of many bishops around the world in having a church in his diocese served by one of the Traditional Institutes, simply because he welcomed it. When a bishop does this, he presumably does it for reasons he regards as good. The unity of the Church, the good of souls, and the preservation of historic church buildings may all be factors. None of these has been obviated by Traditionis Custodes.

It is not surprising, therefore, that we hear of the most hostile reports about the older Mass coming from bishops, notably in Italy, whose dioceses contained no celebrations anyway. They can ban the Usus Antiquior, but they had effectively done so already. Bishops who had allowed it, on the other hand, such as many in the U.S., often had good things to say about it and seem likely to continue to implement Traditionis Custodes in a gentle way.

What has changed is that the Latin Mass is now less likely to spread to new locations, even within a more open-minded diocese. The Vetus Ordo faces a period of consolidation: congregations will be able to grow, but not multiply. It remains to be seen, however, how long this phase of liturgical history will last, and what will succeed it.”


The First Thanksgiving – Sep 8 1565, St Augustine, Florida

-please click on the image for greater detail

“East were the
Dead kings and the remembered sepulchres:
West was the grass.

And all beautiful
All before us

America was always promises.”
-from the book length poem “America was Promises”, 1939, by Archibald McLeish

-Pedro Menendez de Aviles

According to the US National Park Service, the first thanksgiving was held in St Augustine, Florida.  Spanish Captain General of the Indies Fleet and Adelantado of Florida Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed at the village of Seloy on September 8, 1565, and re-named the area St. Augustine.

There are two written narratives of the events. One comes from the diary of the chaplain on the voyage, Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales. The second was written by the voyage’s physician, Dr. Gonzalo Solis de Meras , Pedro Menendez’s, brother-in-law.

Blaring trumpets and thundering artillery serenaded Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés as he waded ashore on September 8, 1565. The Spanish admiral kissed a cross held aloft by the fleet’s captain, Father Francisco Lopez, then claimed Florida for both his God and his country. As curious members of the indigenous Timucua tribe looked on, the 800 newly arrived colonists gathered around a makeshift altar as Father Lopez performed a Catholic mass of thanksgiving for their safe arrival in the newly christened settlement of St. Augustine. At the invitation of Menéndez, the Timucuans then joined the newcomers in a communal meal.

The First Thanksgiving Mass in North America was celebrated in what is today St. Augustine, Florida, on September 8, 1565. Captain General Pedro Menendez de Aviles came ashore amid the sounding of trumpets, artillery salutes and the firing of cannons to claim the land for King Philip II and Spain was received peacefully by the local natives. Fr. Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, who had gone ashore the previous day, advanced to meet him, chanting the Te Deum Laudamus and carrying a cross which Menendez and those with him reverently kissed. Then the 500 soldiers, 200 sailors and 100 families and artisans, along with the Timucuan Indians from the nearby village of Seloy, gathered at a makeshift altar, and a Mass in honor of the Nativity of the virgin Mary was said. The Mass was followed by a feast shared by the Spanish and the Timucuan Native Americans. The place where the Spaniards landed is the oldest continually-inhabited city in the United States—St. Augustine, Florida, so named because land was sighted on the traditional feast of St. Augustine: August 28th. The parish established there is our country’s oldest Catholic parish. The word “eucharist” means “thanksgiving,” and so it is providentially fitting that the first Thanksgiving in America was—first and foremost—the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Conquistadors bearing flags watched as Pedro Menendez kissed the foot of a cross. On September 8, 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and 800 Spanish settlers founded the city of St. Augustine in Spanish La Florida. As soon as they were ashore, the landing party celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving. Afterward, Menéndez laid out a meal to which he invited as guests the native Seloy tribe who occupied the site. The celebrant of the Mass was St. Augustine’s first pastor, Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, and the feast day in the church calendar was that of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What exactly the Seloy natives thought of those strange liturgical proceedings we do not know, except that, in his personal chronicle, Father Lopez wrote that “the Indians imitated all they saw done.”

-Timucua preparing a feast as depicted by Jacques Le Moyne

What was the meal that followed? From our knowledge of what the Spaniards had on board their five ships, we can surmise that it was cocido, a stew made from salted pork and garbanzo beans, laced with garlic seasoning, and accompanied by hard sea biscuits and red wine. If the Seloy contributed to the meal from their own food stores, then the menu could have included turkey, venison, gopher tortoise, mullet, drum, sea catfish, maize (corn), beans, and squash.

This was the first community act of religion and thanksgiving in the first permanent European settlement in North America. It took place just 300 yards north of the Castillo de San Marcos, at what is now the Mission of Nombre de Dios. This event is commemorated today by a 250 foot cross which stands on the original landing site.

Did you know that the first thanksgiving meal in the USA was celebrated by Spanish settlers, in what became Florida? And that first Thanksgiving was Eucharistic! The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1565, at what is now the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, Florida.

This account of the first “thanksgiving” reflects what was found in Father Francisco’s memoirs. In it we read, “the feast day [was] observed . . . after Mass, ‘the Adelantado [Menendez] had the Indians fed and dined himself.‘”

Additionally, before the Mass was celebrated, “Father Francisco López, the fleet chaplain…came ashore ahead of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the leader of the founding expedition, and then went forward to meet Menéndez holding a cross… Menéndez came on land, knelt and kissed the cross.”

-Jacque Le Moyne’s engraving of the Timucuan chief showing Rene Laudonniere, who established the French Huguenot Fort Caroline atop the St. Johns Bluff, near present-day Jacksonville, the marker erected by Jean Ribault in 1562

From the very beginning the European peoples dreamed of America as the Fortunate Isles, the land of promise here below. What they expect from America is: Hope. And please God that this critical fact may never be forgotten here.

It is possible to be more specific, and to say: what the world expects from America is that she keep alive, in human history, a fraternal recognition of the dignity of man – in other words, the terrestrial hope of men in the Gospel.

-mural at St. Augustine Cathedral of First Thanksgiving, please click on the image for greater detail

The place where the Spaniards landed is the oldest continually-inhabited city in the United States—St. Augustine, Florida, so named because land was sighted on the traditional feast of St. Augustine: August 28th. The parish established there is our country’s oldest Catholic parish. The word “eucharist” means “thanksgiving,” and so it is providentially fitting that the first Thanksgiving in America was—first and foremost—the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.


Where accompaniment fails

“Whatever we call these movements — “social justice,” “wokeness,” “identity politics,” “intersectionality,” “successor ideology” — they claim to offer what religion provides…Pope Francis makes the same point powerfully in Fratelli Tutti: unless we believe that God is our Father, there is no reason for us to treat others as our brothers and sisters.

That is precisely the problem here.

Today’s critical theories and ideologies are profoundly atheistic. They deny the soul, the spiritual, transcendent dimension of human nature; or they think that it is irrelevant to human happiness. They reduce what it means to be human to essentially physical qualities — the color of our skin, our sex, our notions of gender, our ethnic background, or our position in society.

No doubt that we can recognize in these movements certain elements of liberation theology, they seem to be coming from the same Marxist cultural vision. Also, these movements resemble some of the heresies that we find in Church history.

Like the early Manicheans, these movements see the world as a struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Like the Gnostics, they reject creation and the body. They seem to believe that human beings can become whatever we decide to make of ourselves.

These movements are also Pelagian, believing that redemption can be accomplished through our own human efforts, without God.

And as a final point, I would note that these movements are Utopian. They seem to really believe that we can create a kind of “heaven on earth,” a perfectly just society, through our own political efforts.

Again my friends, my point is this: I believe that it is important for the Church to understand and engage these new movements — not on social or political terms, but as dangerous substitutes for true religion…these strictly secular movements are causing new forms of social division, discrimination, intolerance, and injustice…We should not be intimidated by these new religions of social justice and political identity…

Jesus Christ came to announce the new creation, the new man and the new woman, given power to become children of God, renewed in the image of their Creator.

Jesus taught us to know and love God as our Father, and He called His Church to carry that good news to the ends of the earth — to gather, from every race and tribe and people, the one worldwide family of God.

That was the meaning of Pentecost, when men and women from every nation under heaven heard the Gospel in their own native language. That is what St. Paul meant when he said that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free…

The world does not need a new secular religion to replace Christianity. It needs you and me to be better witnesses, better Christians. Let us begin by forgiving, loving, sacrificing for others, putting away spiritual poisons like resentment and envy…

True religion does not seek to harm or humiliate, to ruin livelihoods or reputations. True religion offers a path for even the worst sinners to find redemption.”
-‘Reflections on the Church and America’s New Religions’, Most Reverend José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, Address delivered to, Congress of Catholics and Public Life, Madrid, Spain, November 4, 2021

-by Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky

“Let’s take a look at Jesus’ ministry and see if the modern pastoral doctrine of accompaniment is worthwhile. As the dogmatic precepts of the secular religion take shape, cultural elites try to deflect criticism by presuming the rhetorical high ground. Only a racist and a bigot would object to the allegedly self-evident truths of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” LGBTQ+ replaces morally descriptive words like homosexual, sodomy, perversion, and mutilation. Abortion and genital mutilation are no longer crimes against humanity. They are human rights.

Church leaders—like all of us—fear demonization and isolation, and Catholic moral teaching seems too harsh for modern sensibilities. So priests and bishops scramble to devise innovative strategies in response to these dramatic cultural changes. In recent years, they have introduced the pastoral doctrine of accompaniment.

Accompaniment has benign connotations and downplays divisions. The piano accompanies the singer; the side dish accompanies the main. As a pastoral strategy, the term implies compatibility and complementarity. It also encourages linguistic sugar-coating for “non-judgmental” and “inclusive” gospel proclamation. But how does the strategy compare with the mission of Jesus?

After the Resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples on their journey to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-35). The disciples initially do not recognize him. Good Friday devastated their expectations, and Jesus—employing the Socratic Method—instructs them along the way. He explains how the events fulfilled all of the scriptural prophecies. When he joins them at their destination, they recognize him in the breaking of the bread, and he immediately vanishes from their sight. They exclaim: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

The benign components of accompaniment on the road are on display. The disciples are loyal to Jesus but discouraged by the horror of the cross. Jesus engages them in conversation, respectful but teeing up for a teaching moment: “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” The anonymous Jesus pointedly confronts their slothful thinking and hardness of heart. Jesus’ journey with faithful, attentive, and docile disciples on the road is a pastoral success story.

Earlier in his sacred ministry, the Pharisees bring an adulterous woman to Jesus (see John 8:1-11). The Law of Moses requires stoning as the punishment. This time, Jesus is a man of few words. He patiently listens and enigmatically scribbles in the dust. Rising, He responds: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Bending down again, He continues to write (enumerating their sins?), and they all depart, one by one. But Jesus did not save the lady for her to work the streets later in the day. He says to her, “Has no one condemned you?” She replies, “No one, Lord.” Jesus responds, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” Except for the departure of the shamed accusers, the account looks like another successful illustration of pastoral accompaniment.

During his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus reveals Who He is in response to her inquiring mind (see John 4). He promises God’s gift of living water, but he also confronts her adultery: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband.” Instead of discouraging her, the honesty of Jesus inspires her. She concludes that Jesus is a prophet and elevates the conversation to the questions of orthodoxy—“right worship”—and Jesus reveals that He is indeed the Messiah. The lady returns to her village with exuberance. “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

Listening with patience and engaging in conversation are required components of the pastoral strategy of Jesus. But His witness to the truth takes precedence. Before Pilate, Jesus testifies: “For this, I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” (John 18:37). So every gospel proclamation strategy must witness to the truth after the example of Jesus.

Without the goodwill of those He encountered, the fearless honesty of Jesus could have easily derailed the happy outcomes. His confrontations with the Pharisees provide a stark contrast to the success stories (see Luke 11:37-53). Although Jesus recognizes the authority of the Pharisees because they “sit on Moses’ seat,” he pulls no punches in his critique of them. They preach but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens that they will not move and love places of honor, the best seats, and salutations; they are blind guides and hypocrites. Jesus here violates every tenet of accompaniment. Indeed, he often fails to win friends and influence people throughout the gospel because his honesty can be provocative, unsettling, and offensive to hardened hearts.

When we measure it against the ministry of Jesus, we must conclude that the modern pastoral strategy of egalitarian accompaniment—never invoking gospel truths on the hot-button issues—fails. It systemically disguises either fearful complacency (the failure of action in disciplining pro-abortion politicians) or malevolent cooperation with the enemies of Christ (e.g., so-called LGBTQ ministries). The foundational component of the modern strategy of accompaniment is often not the proclamation of the gospel. It is self-preservation and accommodation, hoping the Church’s cultural adversaries will not demonize and isolate Church leaders. Pastoral accompaniment and cultural accommodation have become interchangeable terms.

Such “mutual accompaniment” doesn’t make much sense in the world of music. Even if the piano part is especially elaborate or beautiful, we would never say the singer thus accompanies the piano. Likewise with food: the side dish accompanies the main, not vice versa. Similarly, neglecting the teachings of Christ in favor of “inclusive” and “non-judgmental” accompaniment is incomplete, even dishonest.

In retrospect, the modern doctrine of accompaniment is flawed from its inception. It deviates from Jesus’ program in a fundamental way: instead of accompanying our Lord on the way of the cross, many Church leaders choose to accommodate sinners on sinners’ terms. Hence, the doctrine of pastoral accompaniment and accommodation has replaced the guardrails of orthodoxy with doctrinal ambiguity and error.

There can be no substitute for the truth of the gospel. “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).”

Love & truth,

Nov 15 – St Albert the Great, OP (1206-1280) – Light of Science, Light of Religion

In a 1988 letter to the Rev. George V. Coyne, S.J., director of the Vatican Observatory, His Holiness Pope St John Paul II wrote, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.” 

The Gold Mass, which follows in the tradition of special Masses for members of different professions, was selected because gold is the color of the hoods worn by individuals graduating with a Ph.D. in science. It is also the color associated with the patron saint of scientists St. Albert the Great.

The first Gold Mass for scientists and engineers was held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Nov. 15, 2016.

-by Kevin Vost, Psy. D.

The proper roles and relative importance of faith and reason have been pondered and argued across the centuries. In our day, the debate is often cast in the form of religion (faith) and science (reason), with an underlying assumption that the issue boils down to religion versus science, and we really need to take sides, either clinging to outdated “religious superstition” or progressing with the times to “follow the science.”

Pope St. John Paul summed up the extremes of this false dichotomy in his encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) in 1998 using the terms fideism (from the Latin fides for faith) and scientism. Fideism, embodied by some of our Protestant brethren, “fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God” (50). We see this most commonly in Biblicism, which makes the Bible “the sole criterion of truth.” Scientism, embodied by many modern atheists and agnostics, is “the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive sciences; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical, and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy” (88).

John Paul knew well that St. Thomas Aquinas made clear in the thirteenth century, as he put it in the Summa Contra Gentiles, that “there exists a twofold truth concerning the divine being.” One kind of truth is accessible through reason, and the other is obtained through God’s direct revelation. Indeed, one nice metaphor casts such truths as written in two books—the book of nature and the book of Scripture. John Paul provided a particularly beautiful and relevant metaphor: “faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

Today, we celebrate the feast of one of the people who flew the highest upon both wings—all the way to heaven. Albert of Cologne (c.1200-1280) is perhaps best known today as the teacher and mentor of Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, as Thomas has become the patron saint of scholars, Albert is the patron saint of scientists. (Seems they both did a fair job of choosing faith and reason.)

Though he is overshadowed by the towering figure of his mighty student, Albert was known as Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great), even while he was alive on earth. So why was he so great? Because he read so well the books of Scripture, like many great Church Doctors before him, and because he read the book of nature like none before him and few since! He also wrote many books of his own, and both different kinds of books.

Albert was called the Great due to his incredible breadth of knowledge and mastery of virtually every scientific discipline known to man at the time—from A to Z, with contributions to fields as diverse as anatomy, anthropology, astronomy, biology, botany, chemistry, dentistry, geography, geology, medicine, physiology, physics, psychology, and zoology. Some people in his day said you could completely repopulate the forests and rivers of Bavaria with all the plants and animals he had written about. Some said Albert knew all there was to know!

Working without any modern instruments, two hundred years before the printing press, and in the midst of a variety of roles throughout his lifetime, including professor at the University of Paris, bishop of Cologne, and Dominican provincial of Germany, here are some of Albert’s scientific accomplishments:

  • He isolated arsenic.
  • He provided the first description in Western writing of the spinach plant (surely becoming the favorite Church Doctor of Popeye the Sailor Man.)
  • He did early work in the theory of protective coloration of animals—including predicting that animals in the extreme north would have white coloring.
  • He determined that the Milky Way is a huge assemblage of stars.
  • He determined that the figures visible on the moon were not reflections of the earth’s mountains and seas, but features of the moon’s own surface.
  • He predicted land masses at the earth’s poles.
  • He predicted a large land mass to the west of Europe (and a copy of his prediction has been found in the personal library of Christopher Columbus).
  • He determined, with the use of mathematical formulae, that the earth was spherical.
  • He integrated the theories of Aristotle on the nature of human memory with the literature on practical improvement of memory that came down through Cicero.

So Albert clearly was no slouch on the science side of the ledger. As for religion, Albert also wrote many treatises of biblical commentary and was said to be perhaps the most prolific Mariologist of the thirteenth century. Indeed, when Pope Pius XII declared the dogma of the Assumption of Mary on November 1, 1950, he cited Albert as a key champion of the Assumption, having gathered the arguments from Scripture and the Church Fathers to conclude that the Mother of God had indeed been assumed body and soul into heaven.

Though Albert’s greatest student, the Angelic Doctor Thomas Aquinas, was as calm and placid as they come, our great Albert could get testy at times, but only because he so cherished the truth. Later in his life, he would speak out with strong words against those opposed to acquiring human knowledge, the fideists of his day: “There are those ignorant people who wish to combat by every means possible the use of philosophy, and especially among the preachers, where no one opposes them; senseless animals who blaspheme that of which they know nothing.”

Albert loved science and philosophy because he loved God. He knew well that the book of Scripture guides us to the book of nature, and vice versa: “For the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their creator” (Wis. 13:5). Albert never looked at or wrote about a plant, an animal, or even a star without glorying in the fact that each is a creature, reflecting in its own way the beauty and perfection of its creator. That is why the whole world was theology to him.

St. Albert the Great, pray for us, that we may grow in faith and reason, in religion and in science.”

Love & truth,

Praying w/non-Catholics

-please click on the image for greater detail

-by Trent Horn

“One criticism of the second Vatican Council is that it contradicts previous magisterial teaching on the question of praying with non-Catholics. For example, the Council document Unitatis Redintegratio says: “In certain circumstances, such as prayers ‘for unity’ and during ecumenical gatherings, it is allowable, indeed desirable that Catholics should join in prayer with their separated brethren” (8). But in the encyclical Mortalium Animos, written almost forty years earlier, Pope Pius XI said,

It is clear why this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics: for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it (10).

The key to resolving this discrepancy is to distinguish between active communion and passive communion. The former is an illicit form of worship or behavior that directly imitates worship. It is scandalous because it involves praying the distinctive prayers of another religion as if one were professing allegiance to that faith. That is something Catholics cannot do as a matter of divine law, which no Church directive could ever change.

So we can’t pray with non-Catholics in this active sense . . . but we can pray with non-Catholics in the sense of praying “in their presence.” This is the licit kind of passive communion that Catholics and non-Catholics can share. This kind of distinction can be seen in the writings of St. Alphonsus Liguori, who said, “It is not permitted to be present at the sacred rites of infidels and heretics in such a way that you would be judged to be in communion with them” (Theologia Moralis).

Notice that Liguori adds the qualifier about in such a way, that would intimate being in communion in a false theology, and not mere proximity.

Moreover, when we examine the historical context of the pre-Vatican II discussion on “praying with non-Catholics,” we can see that the directives were not meant to be universal condemnations of any association with non-Catholics in a religious context. For example, in Mortalium Animos, Pius XI criticized believers for calling themselves pan-Christians, arguing for all believers to be united into one invisible Church. This contradicts the fact that Christ established one visible Church with an authoritative hierarchy. But the pope was interested in finding ways to restore unity between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. In his book Ecumenical Associations, James Oliver writes:

Much was done by Pius XI for better relations between the Oriental and Latin Churches. The study of the culture, practices and beliefs of the Orientals was very important to him. . . . [The pope] urged the cardinals to work for unity with the East. In an allocution delivered to the Italian University Catholic Federation on January 10, 1927, Pius XI said that most necessary to reunion is for people to know one another and to love one another. He recognized this call as one that would be shared in the relations with those separated during the Reformation (pp. 32-33).

Oliver goes on to say of Mortalium Animos that the pope “both welcomed the separated brethren and clearly stated what was and was not possible for Catholics regarding dialogue with non-Catholic Christians concerning theological differences and unity.”

In 1949, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith likewise released a document on ecumenism that outlined when it was and wasn’t appropriate, so this isn’t some radical, post-Vatican II development. Here’s a part of the instruction:

The previous permission of the Holy See, special for each case, is always required; and in the petition asking for it, it must also be stated what are the questions to be treated and who the speakers are to be. . . . Although in all these meetings and conferences any communication whatsoever in worship must be avoided, yet the recitation in common of the Lord’s Prayer or of some prayer approved by the Catholic Church, is not forbidden for opening or closing the said meetings.

It is true divine law that prohibits active participation in non-Catholic rituals . . . and Vatican II’s declaration on ecumenism does not instruct believers to do that. It says: “Witness to the unity of the Church very generally forbids common worship to Christians, but the grace to be had from it sometimes commends this practice” (8).

The “common worship” being spoken of here should be understood as an endorsement of passive communion where attendees pray next to each other or share in a common, authorized prayer like the Our Father. Nothing in the Second Vatican Council contradicts earlier teachings that forbid Catholics from actively taking part in the unique aspects of non-Catholic worship services.”

Love & truth,


-Excommunication of Lord Gilbert, servant of King Henry II, scene from “Becket” (1964) film starring Richard Burton as St Thomas a Becket and Peter O’Toole as King Henry II. “Becket” was nominated for 12 Academy Awards.

The phrase “bell, book, and candle” refers to a Latin Christian method of excommunication by anathema, imposed on a person who had committed an exceptionally grievous sin. Evidently introduced by Pope Zachary around the middle of the 8th century. This ritual persisted until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

“Idcirco eum cum universis complicibus, fautoribusque suis, judicio Dei omnipotentis Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, et beati Petri principis Apostolorum, et omnium Sanctorum, necnon et mediocritatis nostrae auctoritate, et potestate ligandi et solvendi in coelo et in terra nobis divinitus collata, a pretiosi Corporis et Sanguinis Domini perceptione, et a societate omnium Christianorum separamus, et a liminibus sanctae matris Ecclesiae in coelo et in terra excludimus, et excommunicatum et anathematizatum esse decernimus; et damnatum cum diabolo, et angelis ejus, et omnibus reprobis in ignem aeternum judicamus; donec a diaboli laqueis resipiscat, et ad emendationem, et poenitentiam redeat, et Ecclesiae Dei, quam laesit, satisfaciat, tradentes eum satanae in interitum carnis, ut spiritus ejus salvus fiat in die judicii.”

In English:

“Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of the Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the saints, in virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive him and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as he will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church; we deliver him to Satan to mortify his body, that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment.”

After this recitation the priests would respond: “Fiat, fiat, fiat” (“So be it! So be it! So be it!”) The bishop would then ring a bell, close a holy book, and he and the assisting priests would snuff out their candles by dashing them to the ground. After the ritual, written notices would be sent to the neighboring bishops and priests to report that the target had been anathematized and why, so that they and their constituents would hold no communication with the target. The frightful pronouncements of the ritual were calculated so as to strike terror into the ones so excommunicated and bring them to repentance.

Prior to the revision of the Code of Canon Law in 1983, in rare cases (known as excommunication vitandi) the Catholic Church expected adherents to shun an excommunicated member in all matters. In 1983, the distinction between vitandi and others (tolerandi, secular intercourse/business was still allowed with the excommunicate) was abolished, and thus the expectation is not made anymore.

-by Jimmy Akin

“Excommunication is widely misunderstood. Probably the most common misunderstanding is thinking that it means you can’t go to Communion. That is part of excommunication, but only a part.

Another common misunderstanding is that excommunication means being kicked out of the Church. It used to mean that, but it doesn’t anymore.

Today, excommunication is a penalty with very specific and clearly stated effects—that almost nobody knows.

So what is it, and why is it so often misunderstood? Let’s talk about that.

The two common misunderstandings both have the same source: trying to figure out the word excommunication based on its word origins instead of its current usage.

People have the idea that ex- means things like “former” (an ex-wife as opposed to a current wife), “out” (to export rather than to import), or “deprive” (to expropriate rather than appropriate).

Communion is understood in terms of either receiving the Eucharist (sacramental communion) or being part of the Church (ecclesiastical communion).

To excommunicate would thus mean to deprive someone of the Eucharist or kick him out of the Church.

Or so you’d think. The actual way to figure out what excommunication is and does is by looking at canon law, and this has changed dramatically over the centuries.

For much of the twentieth century, canon law was embodied in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (CIC), but that was replaced by a new code in 1983. This year (2021), Pope Francis replaced Book VI of the Code, which deals with penalties, including excommunication.

So what is excommunication? In the first place, it’s a penalty, which is why it’s dealt with in Book VI of the Code (“Penal Sanctions in the Church”).

People often think of penalties as punishments intended to satisfy justice by inflicting pain on someone who deserves it. But there is more than one kind of penalty, and excommunication is what’s known as a censure.

Censures are mainly medicinal; they are meant to wake up a person to his wrongdoing so he can repent and return to normal functioning within the Church. Penalties that go beyond the medicinal and are primarily focused on achieving justice rather than healing are known as expiatory penalties.

The primary, but not exclusive, purpose of medicinal penalties, or censures (e.g., excommunication), is breaking contumacy [stubbornness], or contempt of Church authority, and reintegrating the offender within the community.

In contrast, expiatory penalties such as deprivation of office primarily envision restoring justice and repairing the ecclesial damage done by the offender (Beal, et al., New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, at can. 1312).

If excommunication’s function is primarily medicinal, what effects does it have?

Under the 1917 Code, a person was kicked out of the Church. It provided that “excommunication is a censure by which one is excluded from the communion of the faithful” (can. 2257 §1).

However, this was not repeated in the 1983 Code, and so it lapsed (CIC [1983] 6 §1), so today, being excommunicated does not mean one is no longer in the Church.

Instead, the current (2021) revision prohibits an excommunicated person from doing a variety of things (can. 1331).

Thus, he is prohibited “from celebrating the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the other sacraments.” This means that an excommunicated priest could not celebrate any of the sacraments, and a layperson could not baptize anyone or get married.

Excommunicated clergy and laity are equally prohibited “from receiving the sacraments,” so it’s true that you can’t receive Holy Communion if you’re excommunicated, but that’s not what excommunication is. If it were, every time a person commits a mortal sin, he’d be excommunicated, and that’s not the case.

Clergy are called upon to administer sacramentals (e.g., blessings) and participate in non-sacramental liturgies (e.g., the liturgy of the hours). Laypeople can administer some sacramentals and take active parts in the liturgy of the hours, but when excommunicated, both clergy and laity are prohibited “from administering sacramentals and from celebrating the other ceremonies of liturgical worship.”

This does not mean that excommunicated people can’t be present at liturgies. In fact, they are still required to fulfill their Sunday obligation. But they are prohibited “from taking an active part in the celebrations listed above.”

They also are prohibited “from exercising any ecclesiastical offices, duties, ministries or functions.” In the case of laypeople, this would mean not functioning as catechists, altar servers, lectors, and so forth.

Finally, excommunicated people are prohibited “from performing acts of governance”—something that normally applies to clergy, as typically only they can perform legislative, executive, or judicial acts within the Church’s internal system of governance.

These are the basic effects common to all forms of excommunication, but there can be additional effects.

Currently, there are two types of excommunication: latae sententiae excommunication, which takes place automatically upon the commission of a particular crime, and ferendae sententiae excommunication, which is imposed after the bishop has warned a person but he keeps offending anyway.

If a bishop imposes a ferendae sententiae excommunication or declares that a person has automatically excommunicated himself, then canon 1331 has additional effects.

For example, an excommunicated person might want to defy the prohibition on celebrating the sacraments, receiving the sacraments, administering sacramentals, or being only passively present at such celebrations. If he seeks to violate these prohibitions, then he “is to be removed, or else the liturgical action is to be suspended, unless there is a grave reason to the contrary.” In other words, he is to be escorted out of the church, and the service may be suspended if he won’t go quietly.

Although all excommunicated people are prohibited from performing acts of governance, these acts can still be valid even though they aren’t lawful. However, if the excommunication has been imposed or declared by the bishop, the excommunicated person “invalidly exercises any acts of governance”—meaning they are null and void.

Similarly, a person in this situation “is prohibited from benefiting from privileges already granted.” A privilege is a special favor granted by the competent authority. For example, if the bishop has created a diocesan tax, a person might benefit by being granted a privilege so he doesn’t have to pay it—but not if that person goes on to have an imposed or declared excommunication.

If the person has been deriving an income from the Church, this also can be impacted, for the Code provides that he “does not acquire any remuneration held in virtue of a merely ecclesiastical title.”

And, finally, he “is legally incapable of acquiring offices, duties, ministries, functions, rights, privileges or honorific titles.”

Does excommunication still occur today? Yes, though bishops are hesitant to impose it.

Probably the most common way it happens is through the handful of canons that provide for automatic or latae sententiae excommunication, such as knowingly, deliberately, and directly participating in an abortion (can. 1397 §2). Such automatic excommunications may never come to public attention.

However, even when the Code provides for such an excommunication, it may not take effect. There is an extensive list of factors that may stop an automatic excommunication from happening (can. 1321-1325). Not the least of these is being unaware that the excommunication exists (can. 1323 °2).

Since bishops don’t like imposing excommunications ferendae sententiae, they will often announce that a person has excommunicated himself in latae sententiae manner. This helps make it clear to the public that the excommunicated person is responsible for what happened to him and that the bishop isn’t being cruel or capricious.

For example, in 2020, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento declared that Fr. Jeremy Leatherby had incurred excommunication latae sententiae by placing himself in a state of schism (cann. 751; 1364 §1) since he refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Pope Francis.

However, there are cases when bishops warn people and then excommunicate them ferendae sententiae. Thus, in 2008, then archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis excommunicated a woman for simulating the sacrament of holy orders (can. 1379).

Even when such imposed excommunications take place, their purpose is medicinal. The Church prays for excommunicated people to repent and longs to welcome them back into normal Catholic life.

As Jesus said, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).”

Latae sententiae penalties


Unless the excusing circumstances outlined in canons 1321–1330[6] exist, the 1983 Code of Canon Law imposes latae sententiae excommunication on the following:

  • an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic;
  • a person who throws away the consecrated Eucharistic species or takes and retains them for a sacrilegious purpose;
  • a person who uses physical force against the pope;
  • a priest who absolves his accomplice in a sin against the commandment against adultery;
  • a bishop who ordains someone a bishop without a papal mandate, and the person who receives the ordination from him;
  • a confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal of confession;
  • a person who procures a completed abortion;
  • accomplices without whose assistance a violation of a law prescribing latae sententiae excommunication would not have been committed (such as those who performs an abortion, assisting medical personnel, one who provides transport or financial assistance to procure an abortion);
  • a person who attempts to confer a holy order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive it.

Legislation outside of the Code of Canon Law may also decree latae sententiae excommunication. An example is that governing papal elections, which applies it to persons who violate secrecy, or who interfere with the election by means such as simony or communicating the veto of a civil authority.

The ipso facto excommunication that applied before 1983 to Catholics who became members of Masonic associations was not maintained in the revised Code of Canon Law that came into force in that year. However, the Holy See has declared that membership remains forbidden and that “the faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion”.


A censure forbidding the faithful, while still remaining in communion with the Church, the use of certain sacred privileges, such as Christian burial, some of the sacraments, and attendance at liturgical services. It does not exclude from Church membership, nor does it necessarily imply a personal fault of any individual affected by the interdict. When imposed for a fixed period, it is a vindictive penalty because of some grave act done against the common good of the Church by one or more parishes. Usual religious services are curtailed, but sacraments may be given to the dying, marriages celebrated, and Holy Communion administered if the interdict is general or local (not personal). A general interdict may be inflicted only by the Holy See. Parishes or persons may be interdicted only by the local ordinary.

Instances in which one incurs a latae sententiae interdict include the following:

  • using physical force against a bishop
  • attempting to preside at Eucharist, or giving sacramental absolution, when not a priest
  • falsely denouncing a confessor for soliciting a penitent to sin against the commandment against adultery
  • a perpetually professed religious who attempts marriage

An example of an interdict that is not latae sententiae but instead ferendae sententiae is that given in canon 1374 of the Code of Canon Law: “One who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or moderates such an association, however, is to be punished with an interdict.”


Automatic suspension applies to clerics (those who have been ordained at least to the diaconate) in the following cases:

  • a cleric who uses physical violence against a bishop;
  • a deacon who attempts to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass; or a priest who, though not empowered to grant sacramental absolution, attempts to do so or hears sacramental confession (the empowerment or faculty in question is granted either by the law itself, for instance to those who hold certain offices, or by certain ecclesiastical superiors of the penitents and penitents in danger of death can be validly absolved even by a priest without the faculty to hear confessions, and even if a priest with the faculty is present);
  • a cleric who celebrates a sacrament through simony;
  • a cleric who has received ordination illicitly;
  • a cleric who falsely denounces before a church superior a priest as having committed the delict of soliciting, in connection with confession, to a sexual sin.

Ferendae sententiae suspension (along with other punishments) is to be inflicted on any cleric who openly lives in violation of chastity and on any priest who “in the act, on the occasion, or under the pretext of confession” solicits a penitent to a sexual sin.

Truth in Love,

Catholic reform (no, that is not, in the end, an oxymoron) – Deus Vult!!!!

Theme from Herrens Veje (English: The Lord’s Ways), entitled Ride Upon the Storm in the English-language subtitled version, is a 2017 Danish drama television series.

“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev’ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
-Light Shining out of Darkness, William Cowper (1731–1800), his last before attempting suicide.

The Church has always made progress through crisis, it seems never through its own inertia, or in spite of its own inertia. Perhaps the Holy Spirit uses crises to its own ends. Who is to say how God works in mystery. His ways are not our ways. That’s why there are prophets, and always will be until the end, when He comes to take the Church Militant to Himself. Lord, have mercy.

-by Christopher R. Altieri, is a journalist who worked for more than a dozen years on Vatican Radio’s English newsdesk, and afterward as Rome bureau chief and international editor (later executive editor) of the Catholic Herald, where he is now editor-at-large. He is contributing editor to the Catholic World Report and has written for leading Catholic publications from America to The Catholic Thing. He holds a Ph.D. from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and is author of three books.

“Not too long ago, I published a piece in the Catholic Herald on the reform effort—such as it is—in the Church. I was frustrated with the experience of leadership’s entrenched institutional and operational opacity. I still am. Leaders’ persistent failure even to appear to care about putting up a halfway credible show of concern for transparency exasperated me. It still does. I wondered aloud—not for the first time—whether legal reforms in the Vatican and at the highest levels of Church government are designed not to work.

Reform is necessary—the great reformers are gifts from heaven—but even their successful efforts cannot get us heaven on earth. That’s no reason not to be about the work of reform, though. In fact, it is the source of the task’s urgency.

Ecclesia semper reformanda is the pretty-sounding Latin phrase we use to describe the Church as always in need of reform. It means the Church is more like an old relic of a machine that needs to keep working and can’t be kept in working order for more than a few hours at a time. You need it for a job, so you can’t have it up on blocks or sitting on hydraulic ramp lifts all day. Old mechanics and machinists would love to have it for a few weeks or even a couple of months to study and tinker and figure it out and replace all the parts that need it and refurbish the ones that can take it and maybe tweak the design so it doesn’t break down again—not as it did the last time or two—but you have an order to fill, and you need the machine to fill it.

When it comes to Church reform, in other words, the practically achievable “good” is closer to “good enough” than it is to “mint” or “excellent” or even “very good” condition.

Is real reform even possible? If so, what does successful reform look like?

Those are reasonable questions, which happen to admit of valid—even if not entirely satisfactory—answers.

Church reform is possible. We know it is possible, because it has happened. Because it has happened, we know what Church reform looks like.

But here’s where the gloss begins to come off the business. You’re not going to like what it looks like. It looks like bishops residing in the jurisdictions they govern.

Not many folks realize it today, but for hundreds of years before the Council of Trent, bishops frequently did not live in their dioceses. Church jurisdictions were sees-in-gift, which princes used to placate rivals, shore up alliances, take care of relatives, and frequently just make sure they had a friend in the job. The state of affairs was one of Luther’s (and other reformers’) chief complaints.

The Council of Trent worked on changing Church law so that it required bishops to be resident in their dioceses. Trent took maybe a half-century to call—there were lots of half-hearted, half-baked, and more desultory attempts at Church reform in the bottom of the fifteenth century and into the top of the sixteenth—then almost eighteen years to conclude, and then it took another century and a half to get the paper reforms requiring bishops to live where they nominally ruled to stick, but bishops eventually did begin sticking to their sees as a matter of course.

The problem didn’t disappear entirely. Today, Pope Francis complains about “airport bishops,” and rightly so. In the main, however, people take it for granted that their bishops live somewhere inside their jurisdiction. Reform happened—it didn’t just happen, but it happened—and bishops mostly living in their dioceses is what reform looks like.

In short, there is no golden age just over the horizon—not in either direction—no better age to which we can return and nothing close to perfect in the future. That’s not to say reform isn’t worth the trouble. The point is that we’re never really done working, but also that we never really begin.

The hope of heaven is real and true—we know this with a hope that cannot disappoint—but as long as we’re on this side of the celestial Jerusalem, our business is muddling. It’s a truth of pilgrim life—institutional and personal—and there’s more than a little comfort to be had in that view of the matter.

On the other hand, it’s also a lot like the view of the guy whose car is always in the shop. It’s fine if he’s a tinkering collector. If he relies on his vehicle for his daily bread, it’s another story.

The Church Militant was a favorite image of Catholic progress in ages past. Militancy means marching and bivouacking and campfire cooking, and all of that means lots of mud and lots that’s worse than mud. The pilgrim Church is another old image, recently returned to vogue. Pilgrimage is muddy business, too. Until very recently, if you were on a soldier’s campaign or a pilgrim’s path, you were more likely to die of disease or starvation or exposure or by a cutthroat bandit’s dagger than by an enemy’s arms or of old age.

There will always be bandits on the road, and there will always be cutthroats in the camps, and there will always be disease abroad in the world, and anyone who tells you different is a fool or worse.

We have a right to expect our leaders not to be bandits and cutthroats, not to be in cahoots with them who are. We have a right to know what they’re doing—really doing—to keep us safe as can be while we’re under the colors or underway. We have a right to know when their recklessness, negligence, or downright stupidity endangers us needlessly. We have a right to clean camps—in the old days, that meant laundries and latrines (but you might be amazed at how long those were in coming)—and hostels and hospitals served by competent staff and subject to reasonable inspection.

It’s dangerous enough out there already. That’s no reason not to be on the march. It also gives us every reason we need to get cracking on reform. Only we need to know what kind of work we’re in for, and what we can reasonably expect from the “best case” result of our efforts.”


Latin not as dead as you think

-Pavia, Italy. “Et Verbum caro factum est” meaning “And the Word became flesh” in Duomo di Pavia (Pavia Cathedral)

[I am always the Catholic docent on business trips with colleagues. When diversion takes us into Catholic spaces, I am called upon by colleagues to translate/interpret both art and letter in said spaces. I do what I can. I try to be helpful.  It is said when Pope BXVI wanted to communicate something difficult, like his resignation, he would speak it in Latin to the Curia listening to him during a meeting.  It would take a moment to process and sink in, which is why he did that way is supposed.]

-by Joseph Shaw

“From an early date, the Church in the West has used Latin—not only for administration, study, and communication, but for prayer. This was natural for regions where Latin was the majority language, but as the centuries passed, the Western Church persisted with a Latin liturgy in evangelizing peoples on and beyond the edges of the Roman Empire not conversant with it, such as the North African speakers of Punic and the speakers of Celtic and Germanic languages in western and central Europe. By contrast, the Eastern Churches sometimes made use of the languages of their new converts, even when these had to be specially developed in their written forms for this to be possible, as with Ethiopia’s Ge’ez and Russia’s Church Slavonic.

There is thus a close association between the Western Church and the Latin language. Even today, when the liturgy can be celebrated in a huge range of languages, this relationship has left its mark, and Latin remains an option for both public and private prayer—not only in celebrations of the pre-Vatican II liturgy, but also for the reformed Mass.

Why has the Church been so attached to Latin? The answer is that liturgical Latin is not just a convenient language, but a sacred language. Many religions have sacred languages, or a sacred register of an ordinary language, for use in their liturgies. Islam has classical Arabic, a language not widely understood by its many millions of non-Arabic believers, and some distance from the Arabic spoken today in the Arab world. Buddhism, Hinduism, and the Jain religion share the very ancient sacred language of Sanskrit. Judaism has biblical Hebrew, and the languages of many Eastern churches today are specialized sacred languages: the Church Slavonic and Ge’ez already mentioned, and the koine Greek of the Greek churches.

Sacred languages, like sacred garments, sacred forms of music, and the styles associated with sacred buildings and sacred art, may derive from the non-sacred, but even in their origins, they often have distinguishing features. Koine Greek and Church Slavonic were literary creations rather than natural languages. No one ever spoke the sacred English created by Anglicanism and found in the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible: it includes archaisms and deliberately exotic syntax to mimic Hebrew and Greek. The High German of Luther’s Bible and liturgy was the language of the imperial court, not the language of most German-speakers. Similarly, the form of Latin found, first in the early Latin translations of the Bible and then in liturgical texts, is distinct from ordinary Latin. No Roman ever said, “Amen amen dico vobis”: “Truly, truly, I say to you.” The first word of many Latin prayers, “quaesumus,” “we beseech,” was already archaic when it was first used in them.

There is a powerful religious instinct to have special, separate words, things, buildings, and music for worship. These are intended not to exclude worshippers, but rather to draw them in to something supernatural, to introduce them into a sacred zone for communication with the divine, a communication that transcends mere words. Hearing a sacred language, like entering a sacred building, is a clear signal that we are leaving the ordinary world behind. In common with other religions, the Church still insists on special vestments; sacred vessels not to be used for anything else; and distinctive furnishings, artistic styles, and language, even in the context of the vernacular liturgy.

Latin is the Church’s superlative means of creating a sense that we are communicating with God and not with human beings. Even in the act of announcing the liturgical reform that would largely displace Latin with vernacular languages, Pope St. Paul VI described Latin as “sacred utterance” and “the language of the angels”. The effect of Latin on the worshipper was noted by Pope St. John Paul II, who remarked on the sense of worldwide unity it inspired and also “the profound sense of the Eucharistic mystery” it elicited.

There is a parallel with the use of silence in the liturgy. This has a place in the reformed Missal of 1970 (for example, for the “priestly prayers”), and its importance was emphasized by John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. In silence, nothing is communicated by words, but when worshippers are united in an act of adoration, a period of silent prayer can communicate at a deep level, both horizontally, in terms of a sense of solidarity, and vertically, to and from the object of worship, God. Latin does something similar in creating a meaningful frame for prayer.

It is relevant, therefore, that Latin prayers are meaningful. The liturgical formation that all adult Catholics should have should equip us to understand in general terms what is going on in Mass regardless of the language. Even people without formal Latin education know what gloria in excelsis, agnus dei, and the like mean. The Church has always encouraged the study of Latin, and this can provide us with a dimension of liturgical participation that goes beyond what we get in a vernacular translation, since (at least with prayers of ancient origin) it puts us in touch with the words used by our predecessors in the Faith, often from the time of the Fathers of the Church. We can, however, choose to focus on the words, or on the general thrust of the liturgy, just as someone praying the rosary can focus on the words of the Hail Mary or instead on the mystery being considered in that decade. Liturgy in the vernacular tends to be more insistent and demanding of our attention, word by word, particularly when we have to make responses and change our bodily posture.

The Latin of the liturgy has something special to offer those with a knowledge of Latin, since they can understand it better and be directed in their engagement with the liturgy in a more detailed way. Paradoxically, it also has something special to offer those with limited knowledge of the vernacular used in the liturgy they happen to attend. These include the speakers of minority languages and migrants. Many tens of millions of Catholics are obliged to worship not in their mother-tongue, but in a second language: in Africa, usually the old colonial language; in China, the “standard Chinese” favored by the State. The use of a vernacular inevitably favors those most at home in it, and also those who prefer verbal communication over non-verbal communication: adults over children, the more educated middle class over the working class, and even women over men.

In this way, Latin can be a leveler, like silence. As Pope St. John XXIII expressed it, Latin belongs to no one in particular, but is “gracious and friendly to all.” The experience of the sacred that Latin makes possible has been appreciated by saints and scholars, soldiers, peasants, and sinners, and even small children, since the Church’s early centuries. It remains available to us today.”

Te amo,


Latin is still the official language of the Church. All documents are first carefully crafted in the Latin. The Vatican is the master of the written word in any language. Colloquial languages are then carefully translated. All this work, whether Latin or vernacular are painstakingly done as language is the one foil of the Holy See and the Church in the present age.

-by Joseph Shaw

“There is an amusing video on YouTube showing an American Latinist engaging priests in the Vatican in spoken Latin. He remarks that he spoke to a dozen priests, but only three were brave enough to go on camera with him and use Latin in actual dialogue.

Spoken Latin might sound like the preserve of hobbyists, like spoken Elvish or Klingon, but being able to speak a language is the ultimate test of fluency, and for the Church, Latin isn’t just any other language. As well as being the sacred language of the liturgy, it is an indispensable key to the Church’s theology, history, law, philosophy, and poetry. As Pope Benedict XVI described it, it is the language the Church considers as her own.

It is for this reason that Latin has always formed an essential part of the education of the clergy. The Second Vatican Council’s decree on Priestly Training, Optatam Totius, says seminarians “are to acquire a knowledge of Latin which will enable them to understand and make use of the sources of so many sciences and of the documents of the Church” (13). This means a serious grasp of the language: being able to sit down and read St. Augustine, for example—not as a homework exercise, but because you want to know what he says about something.

It is quite an irony that some in the Church who like to align themselves with Vatican II, in contrast to the practice of the Church before the Council, seem less comfortable with something that has been entirely consistent before, during, and after it: the importance of Latin in the education of future priests.

In very year of the opening of the Council, Pope St. John XXIII reaffirmed the importance of Latin for seminarians in his apostolic constitution Veterum Sapientia. Pope St. Paul VI kept up the pressure with a whole series of documents, including the 1970 Ratio fundamentalis on seminary education. The revised versions of this document said the same thing, in 1980 under Pope St. John Paul II and in 2016 under Pope Francis [1]. It is also reiterated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law (Canon 249).

One does not need to argue about hermeneutics of reform or of rupture in relation to these documents. They are consistent, repeating over and over again what had been said before the Council: that priests should be comfortable reading Latin, not just for the liturgy (for which a more basic Latin education would be sufficient), but for their studies. These documents do reveal a little weariness: their authors were conscious that their instructions were not being universally obeyed. But if one wishes to know what the Church desires, there can be no ambiguity about it. (More about these documents can be read here.)

Why is Latin regarded as so important? The documents often refer to the Fathers of the Church, but the use of Latin for important documents has continued up to the present day. Not all of this material has been translated, and even when it has been, to read a translation is always second best. You can’t fully engage with a thinker or an artist if there is a translator standing between you.

The problem is more serious still when one considers the Church’s universal nature. To make a document available in the vernacular for the Church around the world, it is not enough for it to exist in Italian. Italian is only the world’s thirteenth most widely spoken language. Few people learn it as second language at school. It is perfectly natural for the Roman Curia to use a lot of Italian, but this language is not well suited to getting a message across to the world’s two billion Catholics. English might seem the obvious alternative, but while it dominates the worlds of business and popular culture, it has much less weight in the Church, where Spanish is more widely spoken, more important modern theological texts have been composed in German, and major regions can be reached only in French or Portuguese. This raises the question: just how many languages does a cleric engaged in the Church’s international debates and administration need to know?

The days when every educated person, including every priest, knew Latin were simple by comparison. That made possible communication not only with the past, but with people in the present. When the Fathers of Vatican II gathered, it was possible for them to use Latin as a medium for the exchange of ideas. In the Synods of Bishops that have taken place in recent decades, bishops have found themselves able to communicate directly only with people from their own language groups. The proposals of each language group have to be translated into Italian, and back out into all the other languages, to be considered by others. It is a process more reminiscent of the Tower of Babel than Pentecost.

Moreover, not only does the need for multiple translations slow down the exchange of thoughts and inevitably introduce inaccuracies, but it gives immense power to the translators, whether they exercise this power deliberately or not. Studying the Church’s documents with an eye to the different language versions reveals systematic biases, though not always in the same direction. When documents composed in a vernacular language are put into Latin, they are often tightened up—made more theologically precise and, often, conservative. A famous example of this was definition of lying in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: editions based on the original French had to be corrected by reference to the Latin into which the French was translated, because although the Latin was later in time, it was the official version.

On the other hand, when Latin documents are turned into English, they are often made to appear more liberal. The liturgy is one well trodden example; the documents of Vatican II have been another battleground for translators. An endemic problem with the latter was the use of the English word reform, often used to translate Latin words such as instauratio, which means not “reform,” but “restore.” In this complexity, those without Latin are at a severe disadvantage.

As the video mentioned above makes clear, it is still possible to communicate in Latin; it just requires effort. English-speaking Catholics without Latin should reflect that they have many co-religionists with whom they have no common language, including many untranslated thinkers of the past. Just as C.S. Lewis was able to carry on a correspondence in Latin with the Italian priest, later canonized, Don Giovanni Calabria, so we open up enormous possibilities of communication by improving our Latin. This is an obligation particularly incumbent on priests.

In the words of Pope St. John Paul II on Latin, the Church has “always reckoned it to be a bond of unity, a visible sign of stability, and an instrument of mutual friendship” [2].”

[1] Cf. Apostolic constitution Veritatis Gaudium (2018) 36.3, 66.1b.

[2] Pope St. John Paul II, Allocution to the winners of the 12th Vatican competition, 22 November 1978.

Te Amo,