Letters to the Editor: December 2021
Heard It All Before
Pieter Vree’s column “Traditionis Custodes: Taking a Bulldozer to an Anthill” (New Oxford Notebook, Oct.) really set me off. I have heard his basic argument before: Those evil trads are just getting what they deserve; they’re a bunch of elitists who think they’re better than everyone else. This argument is in direct contradiction to the comments concerning traditional communities from a number of bishops just after Pope Francis issued his motu proprio. One cardinal went so far as to say, “Neither have I found them out of communion with the Church or divisive within the Church…. They, in no way, ascribe to a schismatic or sedevacantist ideology.”
By taking the action he did and by the force of the strong and abusive language he used, Francis has shown himself to be no true shepherd. Instead, he seems to subscribe to a dictatorial view of papal authority totally at odds with the command of Christ, who told our first Pope, “Feed my lambs” (Jn. 21:15). In fact, by attempting to deprive some of the most loyal and devout of his flock of their chief source of spiritual nourishment, he has violated the command of his Sovereign Lord and seriously abused the authority of his office.
I am a convert from Protestantism. I began taking private instructions from a very saintly parish priest when I was 18, but because the Church will not baptize a convert before age 21 without parental permission, my weekly catechism lessons stretched on for years. At one session, the topic of papal authority came up. As it was explained, the pope has the authority to order the destruction of St. Peter’s Basilica and sell the remains for scrap. He also has the authority to order Eastern-rite Catholics to abandon the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and adopt the Roman rite. However, because of the harm these actions would cause, he has the responsibility to do neither. His chief aim is ever “to pass on what I have received.” The question of what happens when papal authority is in direct conflict with papal responsibility never came up. Unfortunately, we are now faced with just such a conflict, and the question of what to do in such a situation stares the Church full in the face.
Let me state for the record that my family and I are in weekly attendance at our parish church where the liturgy is celebrated in the ordinary form, as I have no reasonable access to the extraordinary form. I do not dispute the validity of this liturgy, nor do I dispute the authority of Paul VI to institute it. To believe that the Church could impose a form of the Mass that was on its face invalid is to directly contradict the indefectibility of the Church.
However, for me and for the multitudes who adhere to the ancient liturgy, there is something not quite right about the ordinary form, and this defect has nothing whatsoever to do with either aesthetics or nostalgia. For one, it is at best an imperfect expression of the doctrines of the Church concerning what the Mass is and what it does. Martin Luther had it right when he stated about the Latin Mass of his day, “The whole thing stinks of oblation from the offertory through the communion.” Luther would not say the same thing about the ordinary form of the Mass. In fact, it is difficult to imagine his having any basic quarrel with it.
Though both forms of the Mass dispense an infinity of graces on worshipers, the Church, and the world, the ability of any one person to benefit from that flood of grace is wholly dependent upon the disposition of that person to receive it. One important function of the Mass, therefore, is to elevate the mind and heart and to open the soul to the reception of these manifold spiritual benefits. In this, the ordinary form fails. In my experience, a simple low Mass in the usus antiquior said by one priest and a server does a far better job of this than the most elaborate celebration of the Novus Ordo. For many, attendance at the “reformed” liturgy is more an obligation than a joy-filled opportunity. It simply fails to satisfy the deepest desires of the human heart.
The Church has endured bad popes before, but never has she endured someone in the Petrine office with quite the inclination to cast doubt on Church teachings or to cast such wrongheaded aspersions on her form of worship as the one who is there now. We must, all of us, sincerely pray that the damage this man is doing does not last beyond his term of office.
Pieter Vree’s main source for attacking traditionalists comes from right-wing websites, and then he uses an article from a left-wing website, WherePeterIs.com, to solidify his point. In that article, Rachel Dobbs states, “The Vatican II Mass is part of a reckoning and healing process after years of the Church’s complicity in imperialist colonialism, the destruction of American indigenous groups, the enslavement of Africans, and other evils around the world.”
Really? Imperialist colonialism? Is she part of the crowd who took down statues of St. Junípero Serra in California? The same Junípero Serra who protected the Indians from mistreatment by the colonialists? She’s Vree’s source?
I have attended the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) off and on for years and have never seen any of the separationist, right-wing hatred of which Vree speaks. Most of the “right-wing, radical, misogynist trads” who attend the TLM also attend Novus Ordo Masses. Of course, I don’t waste my time reading radical websites of the Left or the Right, so maybe that’s why I’m not aware of the tremendous harm posed to the Church by the traditionalists.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
I was deeply disappointed by Pieter Vree’s column on Traditionis Custodes. He presents a one-sided portrayal of Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) communities, which maligns the traditionalist renewal in the Church and those of us who are simply seeking to grow closer to God through a liturgy of timeless beauty. Vree gives pride of place to the testimony of Rachel Dobbs, a person who migrated from a TLM to a Novus Ordo (NO) community, but he should have given equal time to the vastly more numerous people who have made the opposite migration from an NO to a TLM community. I am one of them.
I came of age in the 1970s with the insipid NO Mass that remains common here in the United States. I received the typical catechesis of the time, up to Confirmation in eighth grade. I never understood what my faith was about because I was never taught the substantive doctrines of the faith, and the liturgy was no help at all. It bored me to tears. Most tellingly, I never internalized the doctrine of the Real Presence, as the ho-hum routine of all the people casually shuffling up to the altar to receive the Host in their hands from lay extraordinary ministers did nothing to impress upon my young mind that I was partaking of something sacred. It should be no wonder to anybody that 70 percent of NO-going Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence.
Contrast that to the reverent mode of reception in the TLM, in which communicants receive Holy Communion directly on the tongue, while kneeling at an altar rail, only from priests consecrated for the task, with an altar server holding a golden paten underneath the communicant’s chin lest any fragment from the Sacred Host fall from the priest’s hand. All the while, soul-uplifting Gregorian chant permeates the Mass. It’s no surprise that close to 100 percent of TLM participants believe in the Real Presence.
My first exposure to the TLM occurred in the 1990s, when an unusual Sunday schedule led me to attend a 3 PM Latin Mass. I experienced it as something alien, and I couldn’t understand why the priest had his back to the congregation and was uttering inaudible prayers. I actually walked out of that TLM and went to a later NO Mass. It was not until about six years ago that I decided to give the TLM a sustained try. I resolved to go to six TLMs in a row, with the result that I gradually experienced the greater depth and beauty of the TLM, which motivated me to study its underlying theology. I have found it to be a deeper worship experience that nourishes one’s faith far more effectively than the NO Mass. There is nothing elitist about this change in my perspective, for I certainly would not have persevered with the TLM had I found it no better than the NO Mass.
I think this is what participants of the NO Mass (who do not experientially understand the TLM) simply cannot process: that the two liturgies are not qualitatively equivalent. Though both are valid so long as the essential sacramental requirements are met, validity is a low bar for evaluating the effectiveness of liturgy. Saying the NO Mass and TLM are qualitatively equivalent is like saying a D- student and an A+ student are equivalent because they both passed the class.
As for the charges Dobbs makes regarding idolatry of tradition and uncharitable TLM communities, such things certainly exist, just as idolatry of modernity and uncharitable NO communities exist. They are particularly present in sedevacantist and SSPX circles, but these are not comparable to TLM communities that are in full communion with the Church, such as FSSP parishes, and Vree made no distinction between these apples and oranges. I can tell you I have never experienced the toxicity Dobbs so luridly describes, and the fact that Vree quotes her so extensively without giving equal time to the other side shows his personal bias.
While it is all very well to decry the abuses that exist on the traditionalist side, it would be dishonest not to acknowledge similar abuses on the NO side of the ledger. Indeed, NO communities have been marked by liturgical abuses and disobedience to orthodoxy since their inception. Most recently, we had the brazen liturgical sacrilege in the German Church, which celebrated LGBTQ ideology. Pope Francis has not offered a word of censure or any hint of disciplinary action for this. Yet, this is not taken to be characteristic of NO communities. Why can’t the same consideration be shown to TLM communities? A double standard, indeed, which stems from a lack of understanding of the traditional liturgy.
Vree downplays the growth of TLM communities, dismissing it as modest, yet their growth has been utterly remarkable compared to NO communities, which have continued in steady decline since the 1970s. Is this contrast not worth highlighting? Furthermore, the composition of TLM communities consists of a heavy proportion of young people, in contrast to the aging NO communities. Truly, the traditionalist renewal represents the future of the Church if it’s allowed to play out, whereas NO communities are following the trail blazed by the Anglican Church toward irrelevancy and extinction. Yet the clerical hierarchy cannot allow TLM growth to continue, for it would reveal the utter folly of the project to “modernize” the Church launched in the 1960s, and pride prevents them from accepting that. This is the true reason why Pope Francis is determined to crush the traditionalist renewal.
I urge every serious Catholic who wishes to improve the quality of his faith life to give the TLM a sustained try by attending six consecutive Sunday TLMs. If you are unwilling to do so, you do not care enough to try, your ideological prejudices are encasing your soul in a closed mind, or fear of the unknown is holding you back.
Pieter Vree’s excellent and well-balanced column reminded me of an equally excellent and balanced book that greatly informed me on the history of the liturgical struggles of the past 50 years.
In 1981 James Likoudis and Kenneth D. Whitehead coauthored The Pope, the Council, and the Mass: Answers to Questions the Traditionalists Have Asked. This book takes head-on those radical “traditionalists” who insist that Vatican II must be illegitimate because of the liturgical abuses that followed it.
Likoudis and Whitehead recognize that “many individual traditionalists are not extreme but are, rather, saddened and confused. The purpose of this book is to give a true answer — to the extent possible, the Church’s answer — to their genuine difficulties, to help heal the scars of the Mystical Body of Christ, to help repair the breaches of unity by bringing to them the light of truth, certain that the truth will prevail and will make us free and bring us peace.”
With 24 chapters, each a response to a question raised by traditionalists about the Council, its legitimacy and its effects, this book offers a wealth of knowledge for anyone unfamiliar with the details or particular arguments surrounding this discussion. Most importantly, to my mind, the authors present a clear-eyed way forward, turning neither to the Left nor to the Right, but clinging to the teachings of the Church in all things.
Perhaps the NOR has already reviewed this gem, but a fresh look would certainly be welcome in our times.
Abraham A.S. Baker
Springville, New York
I agree with Pieter Vree’s views of the current Mass controversy. It seems to me that Pope Francis, rather than promoting unity, is engaged in a vendetta against the Traditional Latin Mass. The following experience of mine might help shed some light on the matter.
In the early 1980s, when I was reading myself back into the Church, I came across a book edited by Fr. John O’Brien called The Road to Damascus, an anthology of conversion accounts originally published in the late 1940s. I later learned that this was one of several such anthologies edited by Fr. O’Brien, so I found the others and read them, plus other conversion literature. Most of these conversions had occurred in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. In many of them, attending Mass was a pivotal event for the converts. I began to wonder how they would feel about the Novus Ordo Mass.
The 1980s was a period in which, for the most part, conversion stories were not being published. It was a time when a common approach was to tell people to stay where they were, to be the best Baptist, Methodist, or whatever they could be. (While I was on a retreat at the time, and was not yet ordained, a priest expressed this view to me in a conversation. My response was that God doesn’t call anyone to anything less than the fullness of truth. He reluctantly agreed.)
In any event, a few years later, conversion stories began to appear again, and there has been a flood of them ever since. Interestingly, for many of these newer converts, attending Mass was a pivotal event for them as well. So my question of years before was answered. No matter which form you prefer, ordinary or extraordinary, and no matter how you argue about that form being the best, it seems there is something powerfully attractive about the Mass that still draws people to the mysteries of the faith. May it be ever so.
Fr. Thomas Shaw
PIETER VREE REPLIES:
To Hank Hassell
Mr. Hassell may have heard this argument before, but he didn’t hear it from me. Nowhere did I call traditionalists “evil” or accuse them of “ascribing to a sedevacantist or schismatic ideology.” His quarrel appears to be with someone else.
Hassell leaves us to wonder what “defect” he perceives in the ordinary form of the Mass that makes it “not quite right.” He says only that it doesn’t involve aesthetics or nostalgia. This is a rather serious charge. Hassell states emphatically that the Novus Ordo Mass is valid and “can dispense an infinity of graces on worshipers.” Yet, according to Pope St. Pius V’s papal bull De Defectibus (1570), defects in form (i.e., words), materials (i.e., bread, wine, water), or the intention of the celebrant can render a Mass invalid. So, what does Hassell’s alleged defect in the Novus Ordo Mass involve?
Moreover, how does he “adhere” to the TLM when he doesn’t have “reasonable access” to it and exclusively attends the Novus Ordo Mass?
We are left to wonder.
The lesson here is to be careful about the words you toss around when discussing liturgical and theological matters.
To Francisco Alberti
Mr. Alberti would have us believe he doesn’t “waste” his time reading “radical websites of the Left or the Right.” But that’s obviously not true, as he spent enough time browsing WherePeterIs.com to determine that it’s a “left-wing website” and scouring Rachel Dobbs’s article to find what he thinks is a smoking-gun quote, which he then uses to make the fantastical accusation that she might be guilty of acts of vandalism against statues of a Catholic saint. Dobbs really must have struck his nerves. Why else would he be compelled to impugn her character so recklessly and unnecessarily, based merely on one line of type?
As for the “right-wing websites” I used as a “source for attacking traditionalists”: The only other website I cited was TheCatholicThing.org, from which I pulled a quote by Gerhard Cardinal Müller, who said it is “simply unjust to abolish celebrations of the ‘old’ rite just because it attracts some problematic people.” This quote is more of an attack on Pope Francis’s motu proprio than on traditionalists. It’s a heavier charge to call a pope’s action unjust than to call a group of people problematic. And anyway, in light of Alberti’s unjust treatment of Dobbs, is problematic really that far off base? It actually seems somewhat mild.
To Joseph Panico
Mr. Panico’s descriptions of the differences in the modes of reception of Communion in the TLM and NO Mass are spot-on, as is his claim about all-too-common liturgical abuses in celebrations of the NO Mass and the poor catechesis of the 1970s (my experience growing up in the 1980s mirrors his). But they aren’t germane to the topic at hand.
Mentioning all this is merely an exercise in whataboutism, otherwise known as the tu quoque fallacy, an attempt to discredit an argument by charging hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving the argument.
And the topic at hand, which none of my correspondents addressed (save for Abraham A.S. Baker), is the way traditionalists have allowed the radical factor among them to undermine Summorum Pontificum and its hoped-for “traditionalist renewal” by fostering disunity through, among other means, stoking rejection of Vatican II and maligning the most recent occupants of the Petrine office. Alluding to liturgical abuses “on the NO side of the ledger” is entirely beside the point.
Anyway, I already addressed one of the most egregious liturgical abuses of recent memory, which Panico mentions: the May 10 blessing services for same-sex lovers held across Germany (see “Some Dare Call It Schism,” New Oxford Notebook, Jul.-Aug.). And no, I didn’t bring up abuses on the TLM side of the ledger in that column because why would I?
Like Hank Hassell, Mr. Panico balks at the charge that some traditionalists are elitists. Indeed, he insists his “change in perspective” about the TLM isn’t elitist because he gave the extraordinary form a good go and found it pleasing, aesthetically and theologically. But his concluding words give lie to the charge of traditionalist elitism: Panico accuses those not similarly enthralled of being complacent in their faith, closed-minded and prejudicial, or fearful. Elsewhere, he twice accuses them of being ignorant (or perhaps stupid) for their “lack of understanding of the traditional liturgy.” Sadly, Panico represents a common phenomenon in traditionalist circles: He assumes his individual personal preference should be the preference of all “serious” Catholics, and if it’s not, then something is wrong with them. If that isn’t indicative of an elitist mindset, what would be?
One more thing: It is inaccurate to say that Pope Francis is out to “crush” the traditionalist movement. He hasn’t outlawed the TLM; he restricted its growth. If he were truly interested in “crushing” traditionalism, he would have done the former, not the latter.
To Abraham A.S. Baker
To the best of my knowledge, the NOR did not review The Pope, the Council, and the Mass when it came out in 1981. (The NOR was still, at the time, an Anglo-Catholic publication, so these internecine Roman Catholic squabbles weren’t on its radar.) It does sound worthy of a fresh look!
To Fr. Thomas Shaw
One of the books to appear during the revival of Catholic conversion stories was The New Catholics: Contemporary Converts Tell Their Stories, edited by Dan O’Neill (1987; with a foreword by the late NOR contributing editor Walker Percy). Notable figures who tell their stories in this collection are Sheldon Vanauken, Thomas Howard, John Michael Talbot, Cherry Boone O’Neill (daughter of Pat Boone), and my parents, Dale and Elena Vree. Each of these converts was attracted to and entered the post-Vatican II Church, in which the Novus Ordo was the common form of worship.
Fire with Fire
Casey Chalk’s column “Ministers of the Ecclesiae Mediae” (Revert’s Rostrum, Sept.) relates how (mostly Catholic) opinion writers in the Washington Post vilify Catholic prelates who support denying Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians like Joe Biden. Casey adds that those who write letters to the editor chime in. I’m sure plenty of those letter-writers are also Catholics. I say so with conviction because that’s how the editorials and letters play out in my suburban area of the country: self-identified Catholics writing editorials and letters to newspapers to pile on the Catholic bishops.
I say, fight fire with fire. For years I’ve been submitting letters to the editor to combat the liberal writers (both secular and Catholic) in the newspapers in my area, and many of my letters have been published. I’ve been successful in giving a written defense of orthodox Catholic teachings concerning the immorality of abortion and homosexuality and the Catholic bishops who promote those teachings.
The ecclesiae mediae’s hijacking of orthodox Catholic teaching regarding abortion and homosexuality is prevalent in every secular newspaper I’ve read or scanned. The ecclesiae mediae is so persuasive that I have had to debate my fellow Catholics — in my front yard, in the sacristy of my parish church, and elsewhere — about what the Church actually teaches concerning abortion and homosexuality, and about President Biden’s hypocrisy as he advances abortion while receiving Holy Communion almost everywhere he attends Mass.
But I find solace in Jesus’ words: “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father, who is in heaven” (Mt. 10:32).
Dan Arthur Pryor
Belvidere, New Jersey
Uncommon Common Sense
In their excellent taidan relating to the shifting definition and use of terms involved in contemporary debates, Jason M. Morgan and Kevin Doak evince an uncommon commonsense wisdom sorely missing in our culture at large and in large segments of the administrative leadership of the Catholic Church (“Is Human Life ‘Sacred’?” Cultural Counterpoint, Oct.). Starting with the sophistic, utilitarian rhetoric of the Left regarding abortion, Morgan and Doak prudently indicate how opponents of the culture of death made the mistake of allowing political ideologues to define the terms of the conversation and the way it is conducted: apologetically and dialectically, not commonsensically and winnable. At best, dialectical debates end in a stalemate.
Instead of conducting discussions like impartial social scientists and from the standpoint of moral and metaphysical first principles, they allowed debates to become never-ending taffy-pulls in which neither side properly understands what it’s talking about and why. In opposition to the Left’s initial claim that it values human life, “equal” concerns about the life of the mother and child demanded that abortion laws be liberalized “equally” to defend both. Hence, the Left succeeded in framing the abortion debate in terms of principles of Enlightenment sophistry and abstract egalitarianism.
The reason the Left was able to do this so easily is because today’s intellectuals, including most Catholics, have been so badly educated they no longer know how to frame a debate. Most can no longer reason in terms of commonsense philosophical, scientific realism.
As Étienne Gilson once observed, we human beings think the way we can, not the way we wish. By this he meant that we think by applying, through acts of commonsensically ordered reasoning, first principles of understanding (evidently known truths, principles of uncommon common sense) to some subject of discussion we seek better to understand.
Following Aristotle, Gilson realized that small mistakes in the beginning of an investigation, or conversation, wind up multiplying many times over as the investigation, or conversation, continues. At the same time, Gilson made the mistake of claiming that most philosophical mistakes start from badly framed questions. For many years, I agreed with Gilson — until one day, a few years ago, I realized that a worse mistake exists: not precisely understanding the subject about which one is talking and the way one is talking about it!
Profitable discussions can only occur between people who understand and talk about the same subject in the same way. Intellectuals who do not do this I call “encyclopedias open to the wrong page.” With the exceptions of Yoshimitsu Yoshihiko, Fr. Seraphim Rose, and Tanaka Kōtarō, the individuals about whom Morgan and Doak talk in their taidan appear to be such ecumenical and non-ecumenical encyclopedias.
Tanaka is an exception because he recognized that the defining element of morally virtuous human beings is uncommon commonsense wisdom: prudence, which is the form of all moral virtue. As Tanaka rightly understood, and as Thomas Aquinas maintained in his Treatise on Law in his Summa Theologiae (I-II, q94), the natural law is simply God’s providence (prudence/phrónēsis), right reason, directing human behavior. While in a way correct, Doak’s labeling of prudence as “pragmatic reason” is infelicitous and likely to mislead contemporary readers. According to Aquinas, the Latin term prudentia is etymologically derived as a contraction from the Latin providentia (foresight). For this reason, according to Aquinas, the person who chooses according to principles of the natural law chooses in accord with God’s prudence, or right reason.
Aquinas locates practical, productive, and moral prudence in a faculty he calls “particular,” or “cogitative,” reason, where he also locates common sense and specific human nature as that of a rational animal. Locating common sense and specific human nature in this faculty is precisely what enables Aquinas, unlike so many of his contemporary students, to avoid what Doak rightly refers to as “absolutist positions.”
According to St. Thomas, human prudence is a species of common sense — and common sense is simply a species of shrewdness that consists in the common understanding, or induction, of proximate first principles and causes that enable people who understand a subject to reason well, talk well, and choose well in relation to it. None of us can reason, talk, or choose well about subjects we do not first understand. To claim otherwise is to lack common sense.
As Morgan and Doak demonstrated well, such is the condition of people, even contemporary leaders of the Church, who have lost their understanding of intellectual and moral prudence. Morgan and Doak deserve praise for so doing.
Peter A. Redpath
Cave Creek, Arizona
I am intrigued by — and sympathetic to — Georgetown University professor Kevin Doak’s thesis that human life is not, by nature, sacred. Certainly, humans possess an unparalleled dignity by virtue of their being created in the image of God. One can even say, as St. Thomas Aquinas does, that the Incarnation elevates that dignity further: “The human nature assumed by the Word of God is ennobled” (Summa Theologiae, III, q2, a6, Reply to Objection 1). Roch A. Kereszty, O. Cist., in Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology, explains, “Because of the incarnation, to be a man or woman means to be a brother or sister of God the Son.” But the word sacred implies holiness and being set apart, something human persons only enjoy vis-à-vis the sacraments, beginning with Baptism.
Yet I have reservations about Doak’s claim that “Jesus’ human life was not sacred. His precious blood and flesh are sacred, but precisely because He shed them for us and offered them up to the Father through His death.” My concern is that such language implies a division between Jesus the Son and Jesus the man. The following question illuminates what is at stake: When people in the Gospels (e.g., the Magi, the disciples, the leper seeking healing) worship our Lord, what, exactly, are they worshiping?
The answer, I would offer, is the person of Christ. To argue, as Doak implicitly does, that Jesus’ humanity was not worthy of worship until He offered Himself to God is to divide His human and divine natures, something the early ecumenical councils emphatically rejected. At the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451), the Church declared, “We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation. The distinction between the natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis.”
Thus, to worship Christ during His earthly life was to venerate not only His divine nature but His entire person, including His human nature, in what is called the hypostatic union. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Everything in Christ’s human nature is to be attributed to His divine person as its proper subject, not only His miracles but also His sufferings and even His death” (no. 468). Aquinas likewise argues, “In the first instant of His conception, Christ had the fullness of grace sanctifying His body and His soul” (Summa Theologiae, III, q34, a1).
There are also soteriological implications. Christ’s body and blood are a worthy offering of love to the Father precisely because they are the body and blood of the Son. Indeed, Aquinas explains that Christ’s Passion was efficient because of, among other reasons, “the dignity of His life which He laid down in atonement, for it was the life of the one who was God and man…. The dignity of Christ’s flesh is not to be estimated from the nature of flesh, but also from the Person assuming it — namely, inasmuch as it was God’s flesh, the result of which was that it was of infinite worth” (Summa Theologiae, III, q48, a3).
Christ’s body and blood, prior to the Passion, were of infinite worth, and thus not only a wholly acceptable sacrifice on our behalf but worthy of man’s worship, before, during, and after the Passion.
In his fascinating conversation with Georgetown University professor Kevin Doak, Jason M. Morgan asks the key question: What does the Catholic Church teach about the sacredness of human life?
Doak wastes no time in stating his personal position, namely, “that human life is sacred is simply not a Catholic position.” His primary argument is that God alone is sacred “because He is God, not because of His human nature.”
It is unfortunate that a prominent Catholic professor at a prominent Catholic university would make such a statement, which clearly contradicts so many of the central dogmas of the Catholic Church regarding the Incarnation of the Son of God, who is both perfect God and perfect man. God indeed is God, but God has assumed — and thus forever sanctified — our human nature.
The following dogmas can be found and studied in greater depth in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Dr. Ludwig Ott:
- “The Divine and the human natures are united hypostatically in Christ, that is, joined to each other in one Person.” (de fide)
- “In the Hypostatic Union each of the two natures of Christ continues unimpaired, untransformed and unmixed with each other.” (de fide)
- “Each of the two natures in Christ possesses its own natural will and its own natural mode of operation.” (de fide)
- “The Hypostatic Union of Christ’s human nature with the Divine Logos took place at the moment of conception.” (de fide)
- “The Hypostatic Union will never cease.” (de fide)
- “Not only as God but also as man Jesus Christ is the natural son of God.” (de fide)
- “The God-Man Jesus Christ is to be venerated with one sole mode of Worship of Latria which is due to God alone.” (de fide)
Furthermore, each and every human soul is directly created by God, as carefully defined and taught by the Magisterium:
- “Man consists of two essential parts — a material body and a spiritual soul.” (de fide)
- “The rational soul is per se the essential form of the body.” (de fide)
- “Every human being possesses an individual soul.” (de fide)
- “Every individual soul was immediately created out of nothing by God.” (Sent. certa.)
- “God has conferred on man a supernatural Destiny.” (de fide)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also teaches the following:
- “The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual.” (no. 362)
- “The human body shares in the dignity of ‘the image of God’: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit.” (no. 364)
- “The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God — it is not ‘produced’ by the parents — and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.” (no. 366)
Last, but not least, Jesus repeatedly called Himself the “Son of Man,” and in Matthew 27:40 He said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
May the Word of God and the infallible teachings of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church enlighten all of us as we read — and perhaps reread — Morgan’s challenging column regarding the important question: Is human life “sacred”?
Elizabeth Bothamley Rex, Ph.D.
Adjunct Professor in Bioethics, Holy Apostles College & Seminary
I am grateful for the probing questions Kevin Doak raises about how to understand the sacredness of human life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church grounds this sacredness in God as man’s image and likeness and sole end (cf. nos. 2258, 2319). For his part, Doak specifies sacred as “divine,” and so he and the Catechism define this term differently. As a result, no opposition obtains between his claim that human life is not sacred and the Catechism’s that it is.
But let us, using Doak’s definition, inquire further. Are we warranted, in light of the Incarnation, to assert the divinity of human life? The answer would seem to be sic et non (yes and no), as the medievals often replied in subtle disputations. Because the human and divine natures are united in the one Person of Christ, the doctrine of the communication of idioms allows us to assign to the divine nature qualities that apply properly to the human nature. It is right to say, for instance, that, in Christ, “God dies.” But because, in the one Person, the distinction between the natures remains intact, we must immediately add, “but not in His divine nature.”
It, therefore, follows that Christ’s human nature is divinized, but not in virtue of itself. Doak is thus correct that human nature is not sacred in its own right, if by sacred we mean divine. Nonetheless, using the Catechism’s definition, it is correct to say that Christ’s human nature is sacred, if by sacred we mean made in God’s image and oriented to God as its sole end.
But the Catechism’s definition of sacred raises a deeper question. Even as made in God’s image and oriented to God as its sole end, human life, before Baptism, is unjustified because of Original Sin. If humanity is sacred when in Original Sin, then in what sense is it sacred when Baptism endows it with sanctifying grace, the very divine life? In other words, because sacred applies to human life both before and after Baptism, what type of term is sacred — univocal, equivocal, or analogous? The benefit of Doak’s defining sacred as divine is its avoidance of the Catechism’s ambiguity.
Stephen M. Fields, S.J.
Hackett Family Professor in Theology, Georgetown University
KEVIN DOAK & JASON M. MORGAN REPLY:
One of the virtues of the taidan format is that it allows interlocutors to address complicated issues with a commonsense approach. This is something Peter Redpath noticed and appreciates about our taidan. (And we wholeheartedly accept his rendering of phrónēsis as “prudence.” That is better.)
At the same time, the taidan format doesn’t lend itself well to making theological nuances and fine distinctions. And that seems to annoy Casey Chalk and Elizabeth Rex, who allege that Doak has failed to understand or accept the dogma of the hypostatic union of Christ. So Doak will make his position on the hypostatic union explicit: He never said or intended to suggest that the Person of Christ was not fully divine from before the beginning of time, or that He at any time ceased to be fully divine. Thus, we are particularly grateful for the letter from Stephen M. Fields, S.J., who addresses the finer theological distinctions we could not address in our taidan. Specifically helpful is Fr. Fields’s reminder that it is at the level of the Person of Christ where the communication of idioms occurs, and “Doak is thus correct that human nature is not sacred in its own right, if by sacred we mean divine.”
We are grateful for Fr. Fields’s making explicit this important point, and thus we find ourselves bewildered at any implication of heresy on this or any other score. What we offered in connection with the theme of our taidan, by way of analogy, is a question on whether Christ’s human nature ipso facto should be considered sacred, a term Doak reserved in this discussion for God, for the divine. There are many meanings of the word sacred, especially in theological discussions. If we were to conclude that Christ’s human nature was “sacred” in the sense of its being divine, then we would run afoul of the Council of Chalcedon’s defense of the dogma of the hypostatic union against the Monophysites that “the difference of natures is in no way removed by the union, but the proper characteristics of each are the more preserved thereby; they are united in one person.”
Let us be clear: We are not accusing either Chalk or Rex of Monophysitism, the erroneous belief that Jesus Christ’s nature remained entirely divine and not fully human. Doak’s analogical example of the human nature of Christ’s flesh and blood was only intended to emphasize the profound difference between human nature and the divine nature, which belongs exclusively to God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). It is always tricky theologically to try to articulate anything about the hypostatic union, which is also called, with good reason, the “mystical union.” Though it is also true to say that the Incarnation “elevated” our human nature, it would be equally dangerous to imply that this “elevation” perforce raised us to the level of the sacred, the divine.
We are speaking analogically, of course, and fear that some rigid thinkers are not so quick to understand the analogia entis, the theological presupposition behind our speculations on the flesh and blood of Jesus in His human nature. To their credit, Fields and Redpath are. And Redpath’s letter anticipates, in many ways, this failure on the part of Chalk and Rex to understand what the subject of our taidan really is, as they instead enter into the record particulars we did not directly or indirectly address. Our subject was not the hypostatic union or — God forbid! — how we have become gods through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Rather, we were reflecting through reasoned discourse (i.e., “doing theology”) on the tensions and contradictions in so much contemporary Catholic rhetoric about how “human life is sacred” and what that is supposed to mean.
On this issue, Fr. Fields also makes an important point about the inherent ambiguity in the two enigmatic lines from the Catechism that appear to claim that all human life is sacred but actually leave us with more questions than answers about whether human life truly is sacred and, if so, what that might mean. We encourage readers to pay careful attention to the final paragraph of Fr. Fields’s letter, which puts the question of the sacredness of human life in clear and profound theological context.
It is curious to us, and we think also of very serious import, that these two lines on the so-called sacredness of human life in the new Catechism differ in their language from Church teachings of the past. In the Catechism of the Council of Trent, for example, we are reminded that Jesus Christ is “the true life of men.” From the same document: “We receive in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the true life.” The distinction between this life in the world and eternal life through the body and blood of Christ is made perfectly clear. Only Christ could give His blood and body for our salvation, for only His life is sacred. Our human dignity comes from the fact that we are made in the image and likeness of God. We ourselves are not sacred but are instead called to radical sacrifice, laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters. The very first page of the Baltimore Catechism sums it up perfectly: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” To serve our neighbors is to serve Christ in them. But “Christ in them” does not mean our neighbors are “sacred” in the sense of their being divine.
If our earthly lives were sacred in this sense, then keeping this teaching of Our Lord would not be possible. We would be in the absurd position, from the Christian perspective, of being forced to preserve our own earthly life instead of giving it up, if need be, for the sake of the lives of others whom God equally loved into existence and whose souls God cherishes infinitely more than the whole earth (indeed, the whole universe, or even an infinity of universes).
Fukuda Takeo, the former Japanese prime minister, was, therefore, wrong. Human life is not worth more than the whole earth. It is worth much, much more. It is worth Heaven, worth the Crucifixion and Resurrection, worth every suffering we must endure to keep our focus on eternal life, sacrificing our bodies, if need be, so that our bodies and souls can live with God forever. We thought we made this clear at the beginning of our taidan. God calls us to much greater things than the absolute protection of our mortal lives. We wanted to emphasize that, by risking their lives to help their fellow men, the German commandos who defeated the terrorist hijackers did what God asks of us all. Our human lives are not sacred. They are instruments, to be given up if necessary, for the greater glory of God, who alone is sacred and inviolable.
We are grateful for all the responses we received. They have given us the opportunity to clarify things that the nature of a taidan does not always make clear. And we affirm the dogma of the sacredness of Life — of God’s Life, the very reason why we must lay down our own created lives, when the time comes, to protect our brothers and sisters in Christ.
In her article “Sexual Abuse: A Personal Reflection” (Sept.), Agnes Martin tells about the time a homosexual priest told her that “a man whose marriage had failed could not be expected to remain continent.” What I think she meant to write was that such a man could not be expected to remain chaste.
Though I feel for Martin’s pain, I am annoyed that your editors didn’t catch this error. Still, I understand that Bill Gates, for example, isn’t giving you a grant to continue, if you take my little attempt at humor.
John F. Early
New York, New York
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
Agnes Martin did indeed intend to say continent. Although the word is commonly understood as having a scatological medical application, our trusty American Heritage Dictionary also defines continent as the exercising of “partial or complete abstention from sexual activity.”
Though Bill Gates (ha!) hasn’t handed the NOR a ha’penny, and likely never will, our editors still manage to maintain recourse to old-fashioned dictionaries. And we occasionally even refer to them!
Yahooing Our Way to Oblivion
As I read Andrew Latham’s and Julianne Wiley’s articles on nuclear deterrence vs. nuclear disarmament (Sept.), a number of scenes from my childhood in the late 1940s and early 1950s came flashing back. One, in particular, was from my elementary school, when we had nuclear “bomb drills.” We students marched down to the gym, which was below ground level, lined up by class in rows, and assumed the “turtle position.” We got down on our hands and knees, faces to the floor, and waited until “all clear!” was announced. It occurred to me years later that had there been a nuclear attack, we all would have been incinerated in the “turtle position”!
Another set of images kept recurring from Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It was and still is a powerful satire centered on buffoonery and outright lunacy in the midst of the Cold War. The most riveting and memorable scene occurs near the end. A number of American B-52 bombers have been airborne, carrying confidential plans to attack enemy targets. As the navigator and assistants count off the minutes to target, the major realizes the bomb-bay doors are jammed shut. With time running out and determined to complete his mission, he drops down into the bomb-bay and sees a jumble of loose, sparking wires and connections. He hops onto the massive bomb and works frantically to make the right connections as the measured, monotone countdown to target continues.
Finally, at “one more minute to target, sir,” the major makes the right connections, plugs them in, and the bomb-bay doors swing open, wind rushing in as the bomb drops quietly away with the major astride, wildly waving his cowboy hat, yahooing his way to oblivion.
The film’s final scenes are a sort of ballet of mushroom-shaped clouds rising majestically, serenely, as Lynne sings, “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when….”
Nations with nuclear arsenals hold each other in check as long as no “Strangelove” or other buffoons or lunatics succeed in seizing power and decide to “throw the first punch,” in which case, all debates about deterrence or disarmament are moot.
Warren, New Jersey
The Church in Thrall to the State
Monica Migliorino Miller’s article “The Eucharistic Theology of Pro-Abortion Catholic Politicians” (Oct.) recounts how the culture of death has, sadly, inhabited the practical Church over and against the magisterial Church’s persistent defense of life. I would like to elaborate on one of Dr. Miller’s points and make an observation.
Miller discusses Sen. Tim Kaine’s argument in his National Catholic Reporter article (May 18) that “the theology of Communion begins with an acknowledgment of weakness…. By church doctrine, no one is worthy to receive Communion, even those in the hierarchy who administer it!” Non sum dignus (“I am not worthy”) is, in part, a statement of simple metaphysical insufficiency. No created being is worthy of such a guest as the living God, much less to partake of His substance. In that fashion, everyone is unworthy, regardless of the state of his soul. Kaine, however, skips over the critical moral dimension, without which there is not a true rendering of a faithful Catholic’s posture before God. We are stuck in the world and the flesh, but we are supposed to be battling against it: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!” (Rom. 7:22-24).
Such is a Catholic before the Eucharist. As Miller suggests, an indispensable condition for reception is repentance. Indeed, non sum dignus is preceded by mea culpa (“my fault”) in the Confiteor and so presupposes that one has just admitted one’s sin and repented. The declaration, therefore, expresses humility in view of the fact that one retains the propensity to sin even after repentance, as though to say, “Lord, behold my sorry state! I have rejected my evil ways, yet am tempted to sin again. But I believe you can help me.” Kaine is correct that by the sacrament we are “healed and grow stronger in our faith,” but healing and growth cannot happen if we remain satisfied with our errant ways.
Kaine and his cohort press for what Rusty Reno of First Things has called bourgeois religion. Bourgeois religion affirms elite lifestyles and concerns, favoring a cliquish moral code that today would emphasize vague things like ecology and social justice over plain sexual morality. When Catholic clergy accept this vision of the Church, it is a serious misapprehension that leads to dereliction of their duty to teach and to govern according to timeless moral principles. This mindset of certain bishops and priests often goes under the guise of maintaining separation of Church and state when it is actually a perverse, Hobbesian connection of Church to state, with Church in thrall to the state.
Encouraging Catholic clergy to act on the matter of pro-abortion politicians, I think, must include advancing a better understanding of proper Church/state separation. Good balance does not have the Church fleeing the public square. Instead, the Church should function as an independent judge of the state, as one who speaks out against evil policies and also rebukes Church members who propose and carry out those policies.
Clergy must not fear the hollow charge that calling on publicly grave sinners to avoid Communion is “politicizing the Eucharist.” To rebuke is an act of mercy to the individual and to society. Letting politicians who support abortion continue to receive Communion not only lends validity to their policies but scandalizes the faithful and imperils the souls of those same politicians.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Like my colleague Monica Migliorino Miller, I’ve been dealing with the issue of pro-abortion Catholic politicians in the Church for decades. Though I lead a ministry called “Priests for Life,” I go out of my way to point out that the starting point in dealing with abortion, including in Church teaching, is not Catholic doctrine but human reason. The fact that the baby is a baby, and that killing the baby is wrong, can be known by reason alone. When Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi actively pursue an abortion-on-demand agenda, they not only violate their Catholic faith — as if non-Catholics in public office are meanwhile off the hook — they also violate the entire Christian Gospel, and they violate the very meaning of public service and human decency. They are defending, expanding, and funding the killing of babies. We need public servants who know the difference between serving the public and killing the public.
One might ask these politicians which is easier to believe: that the unborn child is human or that the Eucharist is the Body of Christ. How can they deny what the senses tell us in the first case, but affirm a truth so far beyond the reach of the senses in the second? How can they accept the Church’s authority when she declares that the Eucharist is the Body of Christ, but reject that same authority when she declares that we need to protect the baby in the womb?
Let’s not forget that Jesus says something very clear on this topic: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24). By denying the personhood and value of the unborn, and facilitating their murder, Biden, Pelosi, and those like them are not reconciled with their unborn brothers and sisters. They do not even recognize them as their brothers and sisters. Before even going to Mass to join in the sacrifice and then eat of its fruits, they have a duty to be reconciled with these children, acknowledge their humanity, and do everything in their power to protect them.
For more of my reflections on the topic of pro-abortion politicians and Holy Communion, please visit www.AbortionAndCommunion.com.
Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
Monica Migliorino Miller presents the facts about an evil that has permeated the Catholic Church to the highest level. It is as though the Devil laid out a plan to deter as many souls as possible from loving Christ. His tools are Catholic pro-abortion public figures and ordained men of God. Frankly, if the bishops had been doing their due diligence for the past 50-plus years, we would not be at this crucial point in the Church today.
Recall the teaching of St. Paul: “Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognizing the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation” (1 Cor. 11:27-30).
Though these words of Scripture are undebatable, it seems that far too many bishops and priests have never read them or are refusing to teach, preach, and act on them. This is a systemic problem in the Church that, after so many years, has resulted in the chaos we are witnessing today.
Dr. Miller adequately addresses the elected Catholics who have scorned Christ and sluffed off the very idea of being denied the Body of Christ. However, one troubling aspect of this situation she does not address is the single greatest concern I have, not only as a Catholic pro-life leader but as a mother and grandmother.
Due to the lack of catechesis on every sacrament, particularly Penance and the Eucharist, we have generations of baptized Catholics in our midst who have no idea about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the grace of being able to confess one’s sins to Christ, or the blessings of being members of the Body of Christ on earth. Though I am by no means claiming they all know better, we see far too many of them scoffing at truth rather than taking their faith seriously. Indeed, far too many of them cannot even tell you what it means to be Catholic.
The concern I have is that their souls are in jeopardy. Even more than that, the souls of those who have insulted the Sacrament of Holy Orders by rejecting the truths of Catholic teaching have to be in graver danger of eternal suffering.
To my mind, every Catholic in every walk of life, including the youngest who have reached the age of reason, should know and believe that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life as Catholics. If there is one teaching that should surpass all others on the road toward Catholic catechesis, it is this. And yet, as we see today, quite the opposite is the case.
And that is the most tragic aspect of this ridiculous, ongoing discussion within the Church hierarchy on the topic of “eucharistic coherence.” Why is this even a point to be debated? The very idea that American bishops have to discuss it should bother everyone. It is evident that the bishops themselves do not understand the truth about the Body and Blood of Christ, let alone the canon laws that make it clear that nobody in a state of sin should receive Him, especially public figures.
The insanity of pondering eucharistic coherence is clear to anyone who can read this quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. The Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion. Thus St. John Chrysostom declares: ‘It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered’” (no. 1375).
As Catholic bishops continue to back away from this simple truth, while pro-aborts like Biden and Pelosi defy Christ and insult Him repeatedly, I concur with Miller’s statement: “Frankly, that Catholics who facilitate the killing of the unborn should be permitted to receive Our Lord’s Body and Blood is madness.”
Making a mistake the first time is understandable, but making it repeatedly is insanity. Perhaps the bishops need to think about that and do what is required of them.
Dear bishops: No more debate; no more delay. Please save souls by being what your vocation has called you to be: in persona Christi capitas.
Judie Brown, President
American Life League
The voice of Monica Migliorino Miller is that of an isolated and lonely prophet. Why? Because she speaks a truth almost nobody wants to hear. Certainly, pro-abortion politicians and their supporters who identify as Catholic don’t want to hear it. But even many who know she speaks the truth don’t seem ready to take up, or even defend, her message. It’s not, for them, principally a matter of denying the obvious truth she speaks. Rather, it’s that the truth she speaks, like the lad who declared the emperor has no clothes, is embarrassing and inconvenient. How so? So many in the Church have let the issue slip by for so many decades that it now seems impolitic and impolite to point out that “a woman’s right to choose” is an expedient rationalization for killing babies, and that giving Holy Communion to those who publicly support the right of women to kill their babies is nothing less than ignoring a scandalous public sacrilege. The truth Miller speaks is inconvenient because acknowledging it would require courageous action.
I cannot help recalling the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary when she appeared to a nun in Akita, in an approved apparition in Japan, where I was raised: “The work of the devil will infiltrate into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres…churches and altars sacked; [and] the Church will be full of those who accept compromises.”
The truth Miller has spoken sets before us a choice. The hour of decision is upon us. The hour of mercy has come and gone. The hour of judgment is before us.
Professor of Philosophy, Sacred Heart Major Seminary
MONICA MIGLIORINO MILLER REPLIES:
I thank Paul Malocha, Frank Pavone, Judie Brown, and Philip Blosser for responding to my article. I am humbled by their appreciation for the perspective and arguments I offered, and I appreciate the insights they bring to this difficult and troubling subject. Indeed, their comments are a real contribution to understanding and even resolving the scandal of pro-abortion Catholic politicians’ reception of the Eucharist.
Malocha raises a very good point that what is needed is “a better understanding of proper Church/state separation.” Indeed, for the past 50 years, a false view has prevailed that priests cannot preach on issues that involve politics, especially when it comes to abortion and marriage. But perhaps the greatest perversion of the “separation of Church and State” is seen in the current controversy over Joe Biden’s reception of Holy Communion. Those who oppose denying the Eucharist to politicians like him have coined new jargon that doing so is “weaponizing the Eucharist,” an unacceptable “politicization” of the Sacrament. Those who make this argument, including certain bishops, do so because they fear that disciplining pro-abortion Catholic politicians will cast the Democratic Party in a negative light, a party they favor and seek to protect, despite that party’s full support for legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, or perhaps even because of such support.
Fr. Pavone could not be more correct that the issue of abortion is a matter of human reason and not simply a confessional teaching of Catholicism. The right to life is a human right that cuts across all parochial boundaries. The more the pro-life movement makes this argument, the more progress there will be in ending legalized abortion. And as politicians like Biden claim that abortion is a private matter of religious faith that cannot be imposed on others, it is incumbent on bishops to publicly explain the falsity of such a claim. Moreover, when Catholic politicians say they personally oppose abortion, because they believe abortion kills innocent life, and yet facilitate such killing, they are no better than Pontius Pilate who, knowing Christ was innocent, sent Him to His death anyway. No amount of “handwashing” cleared Pilate! This complete lack of moral integrity alone should bar pro-abortion Catholic politicians from receiving the Eucharist.
Fr. Pavone also provides a unique and elegant argument. Pro-abortion Catholic politicians apparently accept Church authority when it comes to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (a truth beyond scientific verification) yet deny the humanity of the unborn (a truth that can be known by the senses). If I were a bishop, this is exactly the conversation I would have with someone like Biden.
And Fr. Pavone could not be more correct that advocating legal abortion is a failure to love our neighbor, as those who do so fail to recognize the unborn as our brothers and sisters. They have thus failed in the charity toward others required for worthy reception of Communion.
However, as Brown points out, due to decades of poor catechesis, many Catholics don’t believe the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. This, she argues, is the bigger problem facing the Church. We have lost our sense of awe before the Lord and thus our sense of how blasphemous it is for someone who kills or promotes the killing of the innocent to receive Communion. However, since Biden claims to be a “devout Catholic,” and even claims Pope Francis called him “a good Catholic,” Fr. Pavone’s proposal to the problem could be effective.
Brown says it is insane that we even have to ponder the issue of “eucharistic coherence,” and she urges the bishops: “No more debate; no more delay.” The election of Biden has put the bishops in an awkward position. After 50 years of refusing to discipline pro-abortion Catholic politicians and completely ignoring canon 915, the bishops are now facing a scandal to the faith ever more difficult to ignore. As Blosser indicates, it would now be considered “impolitic and impolite to point out that ‘a woman’s right to choose’ is an expedient rationalization for killing babies,” should the bishops take action against pro-abortion Catholic politicians.
The majority of bishops, 168 of them, voted to issue a document on worthiness to receive Holy Communion, with the expectation that at last they would admonish politicians such as Biden. A draft of the document was released on November 2. It is a very good primer on the Eucharist and, though it doesn’t directly address pro-abortion politicians, it does address what is required to receive the Body of Christ worthily, requirements that can be applied to such politicians, even referencing canon 915. Documents such as this are needed, as Brown points out, to provide the catechesis the faithful so desperately need. But, as she has been saying for years, the crisis facing the Church requires not only words but action! Now that Biden has claimed that Francis affirmed he is “a good Catholic” and told him to “keep receiving Communion,” the possibility that the bishops will actually do something has become even more remote. That Biden can claim the mantle of approval from Francis is the fruit of 50 years of negligence. For the bishops to act now would take enormous courage.
Blosser describes me as an “isolated and lonely prophet.” I certainly do feel like one. Starting with the weeks leading up to the 2020 election, much of my pro-life work for the past 12 months has been an attempt to get the bishops to speak out. I began with an open letter to the bishops published as two newspaper ads, signed by over 30 pro-life leaders, priests, and scholars. I sent out by certified mail the same letter addressed personally to every bishop in the United States. I have attempted to meet with three bishops responsible for the document on eucharistic coherency, one of whom actually did speak with me. I have published no fewer than seven articles on the scandal of pro-abortion Catholic politicians’ reception of Holy Communion. Now that Biden has gained Pope Francis’s approval to “keep receiving Communion,” it will be interesting to see how the Bride of Christ will emerge from this debacle. But emerge she must.
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