14 April 2007

Positive Elements of Caritatis Sacramentum Part 1

[Taken from Athanasius Contra Mundum]
Readers will remember how previously I noted the negative elements of the Post-Synodal exhortation, or at least some of them, I could address all of them but that would be probably too lengthy. Suffice it to say that on top of the negative elements proper, we now have the problem of the positive elements obscured by a faulty English translation, which in certain cases says things almost antithetical to the Latin, and thanks to Fr. Zuhsledorf of "What does the prayer really say" some of these are being addressed. It is symptomatic of the problems of collegiality, and devotion to John Paul II, that Benedict has not replaced the staff in the Vatican, forcefully if necessary who are opposed to many items on his agenda and therefore muddy up the works. Therefore when necessary I am going back to the Latin, which I did not do in my previous commentary because all the points I spoke of were just as bad in the Latin as they were in English.

First we have in #17 and 18:

If the Eucharist is truly the font and culmination of the Church's life and mission, it follows that the process of Christian initiation must constantly be directed to the reception of this sacrament. As the Synod Fathers said, we ought to ask ourselves whether in our Christian communities the close bond between Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist is sufficiently understood. It must never be forgotten that to be Baptized and Confirmed is done with respect to the Eucharist. Accordingly, our pastoral practice should reflect a more unitary understanding of the process of Christian initiation. The sacrament of Baptism, by which we were conformed to Christ, incorporated in the Church and made children of God, is the gate to all the sacraments. It incorporates us into the one Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:13), a priestly people. Yet, it is our participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice which makes perfect the gifts given to us at Baptism. The gifts of the Spirit are given for the building up of Christ's Body (1 Cor 12) as they furnish a clear witness of the Gospels in the world. The Holy Eucharist, then, perfects Christian initiation and places it in the center as it were and goal of all Christian sacramental life.
This is an excellent place to start and puts forth a lot of good things to think about. We must realize that the battle for Tradition is not only about the Traditional Latin Mass, but also involves various elements of Catechesis, formation and discipline, all of which compete for the souls and minds of the next generation of Catholics. One of the the destructions of Catholic theology has been the perversion of the sacrament of Confirmation, and the separation of it and Baptism from the Eucharistic mystery. In the present state of things the best we can hope for our children coming out of "CCD" (which I affectionately call Calvinist Catechetical destruction) or religious education in Catholic schools is that they will believe that to be fully initiated in the Catholic Church they need the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist; and if we are supremely lucky they might believe the Eucharist is the true body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ when they get confirmed. They most certainly do not understand the unity in them, and that they are ordered objectively to the Eucharist which is the finality of Christian life, both as symbol and as true union.

There is also another problem, especially in "CCD", namely that children, educators and even people with Master's Degrees do not understand what the Sacrament of Confirmation is. They do not. They think that it is "becoming an adult in the Catholic Church". This idea is so devoid of anything Catholic it is not even funny, yet 99% of all children being confirmed will tell you that is what confirmation is. Just read "RCIA" testimonials in your local Church bulletin. The first and obvious rebuttal to this false theology is that in the Eastern Church confirmation is given at infancy, but who would say that an infant is an "adult in the Church"? However this example becomes difficult to use, since most are ignorant of the fact that there is an "Eastern Church" let alone their sacramental theology or the principle of sacramental reciprocity (that what is valid in one is valid universally even if it might not be licit in another rite). Here in this exhortation, we find a strong, post-conciliar affirmation concerning the doctrine of Confirmation.
The gifts of the Spirit are given for the building up of Christ's Body (1 Cor 12) as they furnish a clear witness of the Gospels in the world. (SC no. 17)
Though not as nice as that definition found in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, it is still a strong refutation of the concept of Bar Mizveh which is entering Catholic formation, a strange concept of being an "adult" in the Church which has no basis or foundation in scripture or tradition. The Catechism of St. Pius X teaches:
The sacrament of Confirmation makes us perfect Christians by confirming us in the faith and perfecting the other virtues and gifts received in Baptism; hence it is called Confirmation.
It is one thing if there is to be a cultural "coming of age" within a community, but such celebrations have no bearing on one's status as a Christian. You never become an "adult" in the Church, it just doesn't happen. Jesus did not say become adults in the Church, he said be as little children (Matthew XVIII:3). This is followed up with an extremely important reconsideration of current practice as regards the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation. But first, it is necessary to note one other aspect of this passage, namely the unity of Baptism and Confirmation with the Eucharist, and the perfection of the former with the latter. The exhortation is basically saying that while Baptism in fact incorporates one into the Church, and gives one the graces of salvation it only finds it's full and complete meaning in the Eucharist. St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa taught:
It [the effect of the sacrament] is considered on the part of what is represented by this sacrament, which is Christ's Passion, as stated above (74, 1; 76] , 2, ad 1). And therefore this sacrament works in man the effect which Christ's Passion wrought in the world. (III, Q.LXXIX, A.1)
The effect of the Passion in the world is reconciliation, that represented in Baptism which heals us from our pathetic and fallen state and restores us to life. Baptism then, only can find meaning in the context of that saving sacrifice from which it flows, the sacrifice of the Cross, made represent for us in an unbloody manner in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Another positive element is that Pope Benedict did not use the words "Eucharistic Liturgy" as John Paul always did, neither did he merely say the liturgy, or the meal, or the service, but the "Eucharistic Sacrifice", which is so important for orientating us back toward that which the liturgical reformers wanted to deny, that all important sacrifice.
In this regard, it is necessary to turn the argument's attention to the order of the sacraments of initiation. There are various traditions within the Church. There is on the one hand a clear diversity manifested in the Eastern Churches through the ecclesial customs of the Eastern world and the practice of the West regarding the initiation of adults and, on the other hand, the procedure adopted for children. Nevertheless by no means do these variations properly and truly pertain to the dogmatic order, but are pastoral in nature. It is needful to be explored which practice is able to efficaciously assist the faithful that the sacrament of the Eucharist might occupy the centre, as the goal of the whole process of initiation. In close collaboration with the competent offices of the Roman Curia, Bishops' Conferences should examine the effectiveness of current approaches to Christian initiation, so that the faithful can be helped both to mature through the formation received in our communities and to give their lives an authentically eucharistic direction, so that they can offer a reason for the hope within them in a way suited to our times (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). (SC no. 18)
What is important here is that the document is saying the current practices in use are not helping achieve what was talked about in the previous paragraph. The unfortunate thing is that no clear idea was worked out at the Synod itself to be presented in the document, and instead it is now asserted that the source of the problem must undo its damage and adopt a new praxis. There is a lot of money invested in the current system of non-formation and confirmation. There are a lot of invested interests which want to keep the system as it is. To put it in perspective, the current system by which children are confirmed in their teenage years is entirely novel in Church history. In the beginning, the sacrament was given at birth, however, two different traditions evolved East and West. In the West, it was found desirable to maintain the symbol of the Bishop as the font of the liturgy in his diocese, so that he personally confirmed all of his subjects. Originally only the Bishop celebrated the liturgy, but as provinces and flocks got too big, it became necessary to farm certain tasks out to priests. In the East however, the emphasis of the sacramental power was on the sacred Chrism, not so much on the physical action of the Bishop. Thus if the Bishop consecrated the Chrism, the priest could use it for confirmation with the Bishop's approval, and in that way the tradition of priests celebrating confirmation at birth was confirmed and set in stone, a process which is called "Chrismation". Since this was impossible in the west, since the Bishop could not confirm every child born and neither could baptism be put off until the reception of the sacraments together, they were separated. Thus it became the custom in the West to celebrate confirmation prior to reception of Holy Communion.

Something very strange happened in the 20th century, by which children were confirmed later, and after Pope St. Pius X's lowering of the age of reason when one could receive communion to the age of 7, confirmation was retained at a later date in spite of the fact that the same Pope in his catechism said confirmation should be given at age 7. At that point the Eucharist was placed before the reception of confirmation. It seems clear that the Exhortation is teaching that this obscures the meaning of Confirmation and its union with the Eucharistic sacrifice, since the separation of so many years, in some cases as much as 10 years, makes Confirmation appear as an extra thing, and increases the disconnect mentioned. Therefore it is a good thing to advocate this change, the only lamentable thing is that there is not a clearer direction.

If I might interject my own thought for a moment, I think that confirmation at infancy as it is done in the Eastern Church is a great thing. If confirmation perfects what we receive in Baptism, and makes us soldiers of Christ, why in the world would we not want that as soon as possible? Why, especially in our culture where children are under assault from perverted and immature adults from every angle, would we not want our children to have this grace? At the very least it should be no later than 7.

By no means is it doubtful that the ordained minister "also acts in the name of the whole Church, when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and most excellently when offering the eucharistic sacrifice." It is necessary in this matter that priests should be conscious of the fact that they must never in their ministry put themselves or their personal opinions in first place, but Jesus Christ. It contradicts their priestly identity wheresoever the priest attempts to place himself as the primary author of the liturgical action. The priest is above all a servant of others, and he must continually work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord's hands. This is expressed particularly in his humility in leading the liturgical action, in obedience to the rite, by which his heart and mind respond, and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality. We shall require the clergy therefore, always to see their eucharistic ministry as a humble service offered to Christ and his Church. The priesthood, as Saint Augustine said, is amoris officium, (74) it is the office of the good shepherd, who offers his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10:14-15). (SC no. 23)
This is perhaps the most important part of the document. Here the Pope is suggesting something completely at odds with the Bugnini doctrine which has been in operation since Vatican II. He is suggesting that the priest is a servant of the rite, not its creator. This is something so offensive to modern liturgiology, that the translators in the Vatican who are generally opposed to Pope Benedict's program originally translated the word actionem as assembly, rather than action. This is earth shatteringly important.

For liberals, the priest leads the assembly always. There can't be private Eucharistic celebrations. This is why concelebration is so promoted as a sign of "communio" or of unity, to eliminate the priest saying Mass by Himself. If the priest has a legitimate sacramental function that is not bound up with the faithful directly, then one might garner horrible ideas, such as that the priest can offer the sacrifice of Mass without people present! Horror of horrors, something happening without the people! It strengthens the traditional understanding of the priest as someone set apart, and weakens the distortion of the "priesthood of the laity" which they are all too happy to bandy about.

On the other hand, if the priest leads an actio, it is an action that he receives and surrenders himself to. Most importantly, this is antithetical to the GIRM, since it leaves so many options up to the priest, he is effectively the author of the liturgical celebration. The only way for the priest to realize that he is not the author of the Liturgy is for him to say the Traditional Latin Mass, which gives him no freedom to make changes, and forces him to surrender Himself just as Jesus surrendered himself on the Cross.

This small portion of the document gives the theological underpinnings for a return to the Traditional Mass, with the concept that the priest does not act as his own person, but surrenders himself in persona Christi.
This fits in so beautifully with the model for the priesthood which Jesus set at the Last Supper when He instituted the priesthood. He, the Lord of Heaven and earth, offers Himself as a servant, doing the work that only servants do, washing the feet of His apostles, of His first Bishops, even though they were sinful men. This is the model and context by which the entire priestly ministry is offered and conducted. Service, sacrifice. The priest of the Novus Ordo, or we should say who is created for it and by it, is akin to Peter saying "anoint not only my feet, but my head also." Let us not only do those things which symbolize my servitude, but let's invigorate the process with some innovations that I have composed.

Sacramentum Caritatis is rejecting that mindset altogether, and saying that the only way for a priest to be faithful, to be true to his priestly identity, is to be a servant to the Liturgy, to die to it, to that sacred celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass, where our Blessed Lord Jesus also died in reality.

In Part II, we will examine some other positive elements of the document, while in part II of the negative aspects we will consider some of the things I didn't have time to get to.

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