Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Vatican II

Devotions: Stretching the Heart for the Love of God

How do I grow in the love of God and neighbor? This question should be a daily one that we ask ourselves.  Most Catechists would tell you to live according to the commandments and precepts of the Church while participating in the Sacraments of the Church. Basically, allow the Sacraments of the Church to empower us to live a life of virtue .

The Church also encourages other tools that can assist us to prepare or integrate those graces and virtues into our lives.  We call them devotions. Now, our separated brethernuse the term devotion as our daily discipline of prayer and Scripture reading. That is not what we are discussing. As Catholics, daily prayer and a spiritual life formed by Sacred Scripture is expected, every day. They are not devotions but how we approach them is called devotion, but still not what we are discussing.  So, where do we look to find out what a devotion is and how it should be practiced?

In December 2001, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments promulgated and published the updated version of the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines (Guidelines). Notice that it shares “Principles and Guidelines.” Why? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) in paragraph 1674 give us some insight by teaching that:

Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful. The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church’s sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals, etc.

This document (more like a book) governs those devotions that the Church encourages and provides the limits and guidelines on how they should be practiced. Is the Church trying to regiment our devotional practices, by no means.  Any student (current or former) remembers from their history classes the excesses that have been present at different times throughout our history – well meaning albeit excessive.  The Congregation promulgated these guidelines to provide limits for healthy devotion. Again the CCC 1676 teaches:

Pastoral discernment is needed to sustain and support popular piety and, if necessary, to purify and correct the religious sense which underlies these devotions so that the faithful may advance in knowledge of the mystery of Christ. Their exercise is subject to the care and judgment of the bishops and to the general norms of the Church.

At its core the piety of the people is a storehouse of values that offers answers of Christian wisdom to the great questions of life. The Catholic wisdom of the people is capable of fashioning a vital synthesis. . . . It creatively combines the divine and the human, Christ and Mary, spirit and body, communion and institution, person and community, faith and homeland, intelligence and emotion. This wisdom is a Christian humanism that radically affirms the dignity of every person as a child of God, establishes a basic fraternity, teaches people to encounter nature and understand work, provides reasons for joy and humor even in the midst of a very hard life. For the people this wisdom is also a principle of discernment and an evangelical instinct through which they spontaneously sense when the Gospel is served in the Church and when it is emptied of its content and stifled by other interests.

The  Guidelines defines devotions or popular piety stating,

4.(…)Popular piety is an expression of faith which avails of certain cultural elements proper to a specific environment which is capable of interpreting and questioning in a lively and effective manner the sensibilities of those who live in that same environment.

Genuine forms of popular piety, expressed in a multitude of different ways, derives from the faith and, therefore, must be valued and promoted. Such authentic expressions of popular piety are not at odds with the centrality of the Sacred Liturgy. Rather, in promoting the faith of the people, who regard popular piety as a natural religious expression, they predispose the people for the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries.

5. The correct relationship between these two expressions of faith must be based on certain firm principles, the first of which recognises that the Liturgy is the centre of the Church’s life and cannot be substituted by, or placed on a par with, any other form of religious expression. Moreover, it is important to reaffirm that popular religiosity, even if not always evident, naturally culminates in the celebration of the Liturgy towards which it should ideally be oriented. This should be made clear through suitable catechesis.

Hopefully, we are able to see that popular piety is meant to stretch our hearts to receive the grace of God that flows forth from the Liturgy(ies) of the Church (this includes the celebration of the all Sacraments).  I know I definitely want to stretch my heart to receive more grace and penetrate the mysteries of the faith deeper. And these numerous and beautiful devotions are worthy of our consideration

Just for the sake of clarification I thought I would mention what are not devotions. Included among these are:

  • Sacraments
  • Divine Liturgy or the Mass – it is the center of our Sacramental life
  • Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours – it is second only to the Mass and is a liturgy of the Church meant to sanctify our daily lives and time, a practice that has fallen out of vogue
  • Sacred Scripture – Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ (St. Jerome)
  • Solemn Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament or Holy Hour – elevated after the Second Vatican Council to a liturgy

Notice that not all of these are not mandatory. Obviously, the Sacraments and Mass constitute the foundation of our spiritual lives. These additional liturgies are additional personal encounters where we come into direct contact with the Living God.

So, what are my favorite top five devotions? They include:

Maybe some of my friends would share some of their favorite five devotions:

Liturgy: The Baldachinno

St. Thomas Aquinas College Chapel

Liturgically, a baldacchino (baldachin, or baldaquin) is the canopy over an altar or throne/cathedra (the use over cathedras has been forbidden since Vatican II)[1].  It is used particularly over high altars and in cathedrals. When it is purely architectural and not ornamental, it is also known as a ciborium. Another source describes it as,

…a permanent canopy made of wood, stone, or metal that rises over free-standing altars to show their importance. While medieval in origin, the notion of a baldacchino harkens back to the tent that Yahweh commanded the Israelites to erect over the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25-27).[2]

Jewish Tradition of the Chuppa

Preceding our tradition and closely related to the baldacchino is the Chuppa. This is the cloth canopy that was erected over the Ark of the Covenant but is also consider a constituent part of the Jewish betrothal and marriage rites. The rich symbolism that we share with our Jewish brethern can be seen in the following:

The chuppah represents a Jewish home symbolized by the cloth canopy and the four poles. Just as a chuppah is open on all four sides, so was the tent of Abraham open for hospitality. Thus, the chuppah represents hospitality to one’s guests. This “home” initially lacks furniture as a reminder that the basis of a Jewish home is the people within it, not the possessions. In a spiritual sense, the covering of the chuppah represents the presence of God over the covenant of marriage. As the kippah served as a reminder of the Creator above all, (also a symbol of separation from God), so the chuppah was erected to signify that the ceremony and institution of marriage has divine origins.

The “chuppah” may also represent the tent of Abraham, which was open on four sides. Hospitality is considered a cornerstone of the Jewish home.

Before going under the chuppah the groom covers the bride’s face with a veil, known as the badeken (in Yiddish). The origin of this tradition is in the dispute of what exactly is the chuppah. There are opinions that the chuppah means covering the bride’s face, and that by this covering the couple is to be married. Thus, some insist that the marriage witnesses also see this act of covering, as it is a formal part of the wedding.

The groom enters the chuppah first to represent his ownership of the home on behalf of the couple. When the bride then enters the chuppah it is as though the groom is providing her with shelter or clothing, and he thus publicly demonstrates his new responsibilities toward her.[3]

Secular and Christian Tradition

Within the secular realm, the baldacchino started out as a cloth canopy over a throne, this honor was reserved for royalty – especially emperors, kings, and those of sufficient authority or importance. An ecclesial example of this honor would be includes:

…canopies over each of the cardinal-electors, in conclave, symbolizing equal authority during the Sede Vacante. Upon election, the canopies of all but the new pope were lowered as the first gesture of obedience to the new pope.[4]

The literal translation of baldacchino, from Old English, means “stuff from Baghdad.”[5] This was of course a reference to the rich and beautiful silk, marble and precious stones found in modern day Iraq which was used in a baldachin’s construction. For many centuries, Iraq provided the materials for these glorious, and sometimes simple yet elegant structures.

The State Bed

The baldacchino is also responsible for inspiring the “State Bed” which later became known as the canopy bed of the hoi poloi.  The State Bed gain popularity in the late seventeenth century in France.  It was more ornamental than functional and was there to be a visual reminder of the royalty (and of course their humble importance) that resided there. Commonly, the room with the State Bed was used to receive important guests. History records the only time the State Bed was functional used was when there was a need to “produce a rightful heir” for the royal family.

Liturgically, the baldacchino has a rich tradition. The most recognized or famous baldacchino is in St. Peter’s. Pope Urban VIII commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini to design and construct the present baldacchino. Bernini designed the solomonic columns under the inspiration of the former columns surrounding old St. Peter’s high altar (donated by Constantine).  Below is a picture of St. Peter’s present baldacchino.

Baldacchino: St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

The Domestic Baldacchino

Nearly every little girl dreams of being royalty.  If asked, she many times would describe her bedroom with that canopy bed – otherwise known as a baldacchino.  But why? Women innately (though many times not consciously) understand that the marital act is in some sense, no less than as liturgical act which is sacred and deserves its proper solemnity.

The sacraments infuse holiness into the terrain of man’s humanity: they penetrate the body and soul, the femininity and masculinity of the personal subject, with power of holiness. All of this is expressed in the language of the liturgy…The liturgy…elevates the conjugal covenant of man and woman…to the dimensions of the “mystery”, and at the same time enabels that covenant to be realized in these dimensions through the ‘language of the body. (Theology of the Body 117b:2)

Christopher West summarizes this theology and that of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the following two points:

The Church celebrates her liturgy especially in and through the sacraments. Not only is conjugal life “liturgical,” but the Church’s liturgical life is in some sense “conjugal” (see CCC, 1617).

The one-flesh union is meant to be “Eucharistic.” Analogously, the Eucharist is the one-flesh union of Christ and His Church.

This place of intimacy and solemnity in the bedroom is but a reflection of the Sacred Liturgy.  For, it is during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Christ gives His body to His bride upon the altar to be communicated and consumed – to be in intimate communion.

“The Eucharist is the … sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride” (Mulieris Dignitatem 26).

So too does the bride and bridegroom communicate themselves to each other in the intimate communion of the marriage bed.  Is not the marriage bed also an altar of sacrifice where the bride and bridegroom are suppose to offer themselves totally to each other?

The marital bed can be viewed as an altar upon which spouses offer their bodies in living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. This is their spiritual act of worship (see Romans 12:1; see also CCC, 2031)

While not practical or even preferable, every married couple should have a “canopy bed” to remind themselves that their re-celebration of the sacrament of marriage is not only a human act but a solemn and liturgical act. During the marriage rite, the priest or deacon requests that the bride and bridegroom express their intentions to ensure that they enter into their vows freely, faithfully, and with the openness to fecundity – the same intentions for the marital act and reception of the Blessed Sacrament.

Should it be a surprise that in this age the integrity of the liturgy and marital act are being assailed from every side? They are necessarily bound to each other. May this silent liturgical structure remind and inspire us to stir within ourselves solemnity for the liturgy in the both the ecclesial and domestic church.

[1] James-Charles, Jr, and James-Charles Noonan. The Church Visible. New York: Viking, 1996. p 397

[2] “Campaign – Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel.” Thomas Aquinas College. Thomas Aquinas College, 2002. Web. 14 July 2010.

[3] “Chuppah.” Wikipedia Foundation. 24 June 2010 Web. 14 July 2010.

[4] “Campaign – Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel.” Thomas Aquinas College. Thomas Aquinas College, 2002. Web. 14 July 2010.

[5] Baldac is a medieval Latin form for Baghdad, whence fine silks reached Europe.

Servants of the Servant of the Servants of God

Today the Universal Church celebrates the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.  These two great Apostles of the Church represent the two missionary efforts to the Jews and the Gentiles. Today is also a reminder of the Primacy of Peter (see Scripture Catholic).

L'Osservatore Romano Pope Benedict XVI gives U. S. Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, right, the pallium, a woolen shawl symbolizing his bond to the Pope. June 29, 2009

A great Roman tradition for this solemnity is the conferral pallium on Metropolitan Archbishops, Primates and the Latin Rite Patriarch of Jerusalem by the Holy Father. Prior to a Motu Proprio promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1978, some bishops were also permitted to use the pallium.[i]

What is the pallium?  The pallium is an ecclesiastical vestment originally only worn by the Pope. When worn by the Holy Father it symbolizes the plenitudo pontificalis officii (i.e., the “plenitude of pontifical office”). Its conferral upon Archbishops signifies their participation in the supreme pastoral power of the Pope by way of delegation for their particular church provinces.[ii] Until an Archbishop receives a pallium, he may not exercise metropolitan jurisdiction over the territory delegated to him. Once an Archbishop no longer holds that office, he may not use the pallium. If he is transferred and takes possession of a different Metropolitan See, he must petition the Holy Father for a new pallium. Archbishops are buried with their pallium. Ultimately, the pallium since the ninth century signifies the “union with the Apostolic See, and was an ornament symbolizing the virtue and rank of its wearer.”[iii]

The pallium hangs over the head and drapes in the shape of a “Y” down the front and back of the chasuble. It is typically worn for ceremonial liturgies and solemn events. A Metropolitan Archbishop may wear his pallium as a mark of his jurisdiction not only in his own Archdiocese but anywhere in his ecclesiastical province whenever he celebrates Mass (Canon 437, Code of Canon Law, 1983). The pallium is made of pure lamb’s wool with a total of six embroidered crosses on the front and back that are weighted.

The collection of the wool for the pallia is steeped in a rich tradition:

The Feast of St. Agnes is marked every year in Rome with a custom rich in symbolism and tradition. Two very young lambs from the sheepfold belonging to the Trappist fathers of the monastery of Tre Fontane near St. Paul’s Basilica are crowned and placed in straw baskets, which have been carefully decorated with red and white flowers and streamers: red standing for Agnes’ martyrdom, and white for her purity. They are then taken to the Basilica of St. Agnes Outside the Walls. There, at the end of the solemn feast day Mass, a procession composed of young girls in white dresses and veils, as well as carabinieri in red and blue uniforms and hats, who bear the lambs on their shoulders, proceeds down the center aisle. The lambs are ceremoniously incensed and blessed. They are then shown to the Pope at the Vatican and finally placed in the care of the Benedictine nuns of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, who rear them until Maundy Thursday, when they are sheared. From the lambs’ wool are woven approximately 12 pallia a year.  The pallia are made by the Oblates of St. Frances of Rome.[iv]

Once solemnly blessed following Second Vespers on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the pallia are kept in a special silver-gilt casket near the tomb of St. Peter. Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the pallium conferral rite is to take place at the beginning of the Mass in which the archbishop takes possession of his See. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have changed the conferral practice and summon all new Metropolitans to Rome to receive the pallium directly from the hands of the Holy Father.

This year Pope Benedict XVI conferred the following 38 Metropolitan Archbishops with the pallium[v]:

South and Central America (6)

Luis Cabrera Herrera of Cuenca, Ecuador
Fernando Saburido of Olinda e Recife, Brazil
Alberto Taveira Corrêa of Belem do Para, Brazil

Ricardo Tobón Restrepo of Medellin, Colombia
José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta of Panama, Panama
Luis Madrid Merlano of Nueva Pamplona, Colombia

Africa (8)

Alex Kaliyanil of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Gerard Tlali Lerotholi of Maseru, Lesotho
Gabriel Mbilingi of Lubango, Angola

Samuel Kleda of Douala, Cameroon
Joseph Atanga of Bertoua, Cameroon
Stephen Brislin of Cape Town, South Africa

Désiré Tsarahazana of Toamasina, Madagascar
Matthias Kobena Nketsiah of Cape Coast, Ghana

North America (6)

Albert Legatt of Saint-Boniface, Canada
Constancio Miranda Wechmann of Chihuahua, Mexico
Carlos Garfias Merlos of Acapulco, Mexico

Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, Ohio
Thomas Wenski of Miami, Florida

Europe (14)

Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Citta della Pieve, Italy
Andrea Bruno Mazzocato of Udine, Italy
Antonio Lanfranchi of Modena-Nonantola, Italy
Luigi Moretti of Salerno-Campagna-Acerno, Italy

Juan José Asenjo Pelegrina of Seville, Spain
Jesús Sanz Montes of Oviedo, Spain
Ricardo Blázquez Pérez of Valladolid, Spain

Bernard Longley of Birmingham, England
Peter David Smith of Southwark, England
Anton Stres of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Andre-Joseph (Mutien) Leonard of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium
Dominik Duka of Prague, Czech Republic
Jozef Kowalczyk of Gniezno, Poland
Bernard Bober of Kosice, Slovakia

Asia (4)

Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, Philippines
Francis Kallarakal of Verapoly, India
Hyginus Kim Hee-jong of Kwangju, Korea
Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi, Vietnam.

[i] Motu Propio On The Conferring Of The Sacred Pallium (June 29, 2010)

[ii] Canon 437 §1, CIC 1983 (June 29, 2010)

[iii] (June 29, 2010)

[iv] (June 29, 2010)

[v] (June 29, 2010)

The Liturgical Challenge

Today, I had the pleasure of reading the June 24, 2010 address of Archbishop Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. that he presented as the Hillenbrand Distinguished Lecture, Liturgical Institute of the University of St. Mary of the Lake. It was one of the most refreshing lectures that I have read in a very long time.  His lecture, Glorify God by your life: evangelization and the renewal of the liturgy, should be a must read.

Fr. Romano guardini

Archbishop Chaput began by recounting the elated spirits of the attendees at the April 1964 Third German Liturgical Conference and an equally troubling letter presented during one of its plenary sessions.  The letter was from the distinguished theologian and liturgist, Fr. Romano Guardini; best known for his work, The Spirit and the Liturgy. The section of Fr. Guardini’s letter that Archbishop Chaput focused on began with a simple yet profound question,

“Is not the liturgical act, and with it all that goes under the name ‘liturgy,’ so bound up with the historical background—antique or medieval or baroque—that it would be more honest to give it up altogether?  Would it not be better to admit that man in this industrial and scientific age, with its new sociological structure, is no longer capable of the liturgical act?”[i]

Archbishop Chaput agreed with Fr. Gaurdini’s when he posited that modern man seemed to be incapable of real worship. He continued his lecture by examining the impact of this statement and  concluded with suggestions on how we must link evangelization and the liturgy.  I would like to spend a moment reflecting on the challenges of the liturgical act in our culture.

Fr. Guardini’s observations and fears have been realized in the years after the council. The last forty-five plus years have seen aberrations in the liturgy that no Council Father could have imagined. The Divine Liturgy daily lifts earth into heaven in order to make the sons of man, sons of God.  This cosmic event sanctifies all of creation. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is meant to lift our hearts and minds to the Father to return the love poured out by His Son Jesus.

Alas, in many corners of the Church, the Sacred Liturgy has been reduced to a puppet show, an act of narcissism, and at times a blatant act of blasphemy.  For many of the faithful, it is not their fault. We have preferred entertaining them than educating them.  When we educate (which is a bad word anyway) we yield to their complaints that the topic is boring or they would rather build community.  It seems to me that we are willing to put up with monotonous lectures and trainings to earn a buck for a “well deserved vacation” (this train of thought is an American anomaly)[ii]. It also occurs to me that most religious education and youth ministry programs would rather have group discussion and be good friends with the youth (while answering their moral questions without first establishing a functional vocabulary or adequate foundation) than encourage a personal relationship with Jesus, through His Church. By the way, I know it is a bad word, but that is called catechesis. The introduction to the love of God which tends not to be the issue with youth ministry is an event that is perpetuated by….that’s right, formation. Liturgical, scriptural, moral and yes practical living formation – usually in this pedagogical order. Sorry, I digress. At the end of the day we need to ask, “If all of life is meant to be liturgy, what are the chief enemies of this liturgical renewal and how do overcome these cultural challenges?”

To begin to examine this we must first understand what is meant by a liturgical act.  Archbishop Chaput distills what Fr. Guardini meant by the liturgical act when he said,

“…the liturgical act was the transformation of personal prayer and piety into genuine corporate worship, the leitourgia, the public service that the Church offers to God. He recognized that the Church’s corporate prayer was very different from the private prayer of individual believers.

The liturgical act requires a new kind of consciousness, a “readiness toward God,” an inward awareness of the unity of the whole person, body and soul, with the spiritual body of the Church, present in heaven and on earth. It also requires an appreciation that the sacred signs and actions of the Mass — standing, kneeling, singing and so forth — are themselves “prayer.”

The liturgical act was paramount to Fr. Guardini’s understanding of how we live – it established the virtue of prudence – the grace to see reality.  The Pope Benedict XVI continues to demonstrate that the liturgy is central to the re-evangelization of ourselves and by extention, the world.  He himself, to honor the memory of Fr. Guardini, wrote a book adopting the same title, The Spirit of the Liturgy (translated and published by Ignatius Press in 2000), to pick up and carry the standard of liturgical renewal.

We currently live in an age that has waged war on the soul through the unholy marriage of technology and the senses.  This not to say that technology per say is evil or that we should abandon modern advances.  That is ridiculous! But in our quest to ask, “Could we?”, society forgot to ask, “Should we?”.  We desperately need to examine the affect of our predilections and leisure habits have on ourselves and our ability to live the liturgy. I think after a time of introspection, to our embarrassment, we will realize that we have in our lack of vigilance, embraced dialectical materialism and practical dualism.

Take a few minutes to read Archbishop Chaput’s address. I agree with him insofar that we need to link evangelism with liturgy but I believe the task at hand is more basic and difficult.  It is not enough to teach the faithful what the symbols mean and why the gestures are important.  What we need a total transformation of our world view to conform it to the world view of the Church.  The fact is, the majority of us are willing to learn but we are unwilling to change the way we think and live. We pay transformation lip service but not effectual change – we love ourselves and our lifestyles too much.

Over the next two days, we will look at some challenges and solutions to internal reformation. There was a time in our society that the most important life choice was the preparation to give ourselves over to our highest vocation in this life and the next…liturgy. Seems like today, we try to postpone that preparation till old age instead of fostering virtue in our youth.

[i] See the account in Robert Krieg, Romano Guardini: A Precursor of Vatican II (Notre Dame, 1997),

87–90. A unofficial translation of Guardini’s letter can be found at: (June 25, 2010)

[ii] See All You Who Labor: Work and the Sanctification of Daily Life by Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski.

The Opposite of Eternal Beauty

Okay, there is little I can say but watch, weep and be scared.  Upside?  Archbishop Gomez will be the next Archbishop and Metropolitan of Los Angeles and he is promising solution to assist in the cleanup.

Maybe this is will provide a better perspective with a little thanksgiving at the end:

Sacraments in Focus: Confirmation

What is this Sacrament called Confirmation?

In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, Confirmation is one of the seven sacraments instituted by Christ entrusted to the Church for the conferral of sanctifying grace and the strengthening of the union between the individual and the Blessed Trinity.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church in its paragraphs 1302–1303 states:

It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.

From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:

  • it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15);
  • it unites us more firmly to Christ;
  • it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
  • it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
  • it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross:

Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.

Confirmation in the Latin Rite

According to canon law for the Latin or Western Catholic Church, the sacrament is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion (generally taken to be about 7), unless the Episcopal Conference has decided on a different age, or there is danger of death or, in the judgement of the minister, a grave reason suggests otherwise (canon 891 of the Code of Canon Law). The number of Episcopal Conferences that have set a later age, usually between 14 and 16 years of age, has diminished in recent decades, and even in those countries a bishop may not refuse to confer the sacrament on younger children who request it, provided they are baptized, have the use of reason, are suitably instructed and are properly disposed and able to renew the baptismal promises (letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published in its 1999 bulletin, pages 537–540).

In the Latin-Rite (i.e., Western) Catholic Church, the sacrament is customarily conferred only on persons old enough to understand it, and the ordinary minister of confirmation is a bishop. Only for a serious reason may the diocesan bishop delegate a priest to administer the sacrament (canon 884 of the Code of Canon Law). However, a priest is not only by law empowered (canon 883), but, in the absence of a bishop, is obliged[7] to confer the sacrament, if he baptizes someone who is no longer an infant or admits a person already baptized to full communion, or if the person (adult or child) to be confirmed is in danger of death. Baptism and confirmation of an adult would normally occur at the Easter Vigil.

In Eastern Catholic Churches, the usual minister of this sacrament is the parish priest, using olive oil consecrated by a bishop (i.e., chrism), and administering the sacrament immediately after baptism. This corresponds exactly to the practice of the Early Church and the non-Catholic Eastern Churches.

The practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church.

History on the  Rite of Confirmation in the West

The main reason why the West separated the sacrament of Confirmation from that of Baptism was to reestablish direct contact between the person being initiated with the Bishop. In the early Church, the Bishop administered all three sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist), assisted by the priests and deacons and, where they existed, by deaconesses for women’s Baptism. The post-baptismal chrismation in particular was reserved to the Bishop. When adults no longer formed the majority of those being baptized, this chrismation was delayed until the Bishop could confer it. Until the twelfth century, priests often continued to confer Confirmation before giving Communion to very young children.

After the Fourth Lateran Council, Communion, which continued to be given only after Confirmation, was to be administered only on reaching the age of reason. The 1917 Code of Canon Law, while recommending that Confirmation be delayed until about seven years of age, allowed it be given at an earlier age.  Only on 30 June 1932 was official permission given to change the traditional order of the three sacraments of Christian initiation: the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments then allowed, where necessary, that Confirmation be administered after first Holy Communion. This novelty, originally seen as exceptional, became more and more the accepted practice.

In the mid-twentieth century, Confirmation thus began to be seen as an occasion for professing personal commitment to the faith on the part of someone approaching adulthood. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1308 warns:

Although Confirmation is sometimes called the ‘sacrament of Christian maturity,’ we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need ‘ratification’ to become effective.

The present (1983) Code of Canon Law maintains the rule in the 1917 Code, stating that the sacrament is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion (generally taken to be about 7), unless the Episcopal Conference has decided on a different age, or there is danger of death or, in the judgment of the minister, a grave reason suggests otherwise. The Code lays down the age of discretion also for the sacraments of Penance and first Holy Communion.

The number of Episcopal Conferences that have set a later age has diminished in recent decades, and even in those countries a bishop may not refuse to confer the sacrament on younger children who request it, provided they are baptized, have the use of reason, are suitably instructed and are properly disposed and able to renew the baptismal promises (letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published in its 1999 bulletin, pages 537–540).

Effects of Confirmation

The Catholic Church teaches that, like baptism, confirmation marks the recipient permanently, making it impossible to receive the sacrament twice. It accepts as valid a confirmation conferred within Churches, such as the Eastern Orthodox Church, whose Holy Orders it sees as valid through the apostolic succession of their bishops. But it considers it necessary to administer the sacrament of confirmation, in its view for the only time, to Protestants who are admitted to full communion with the Catholic Church.

One of the effects of the sacrament is that “it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1303). This effect has been described as making the confirmed person “a soldier of Christ”.

The same passage of the Catechism of the Catholic Church also mentions, as an effect of confirmation, that “it renders our bond with the Church more perfect”. This mention stresses the importance of participation in the Christian community.

The “soldier of Christ” imagery was used, as far back as 350, by St Cyril of Jerusalem.  In this connection, the touch on the cheek that the bishop gave while saying “Pax tecum” (Peace be with you) to the person he had just confirmed was interpreted in the Roman Pontifical as a slap, a reminder to be brave in spreading and defending the faith: “Deinde leviter eum in maxilla caedit, dicens: Pax tecum” (Then he strikes him lightly on the cheek, saying: Peace be with you). When, in application of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,[18] the confirmation rite was revised in 1971, mention of this gesture was omitted. However, the French and Italian translations, indicating that the bishop should accompany the words “Peace be with you” with “a friendly gesture” (French text) or “the sign of peace” (Italian text), explicitly allow a gesture such as the touch on the cheek, to which they restore its original meaning. This is in accord with the Introduction to the Rite of Confirmation, 17, which indicates that the episcopal conference may decide “to introduce a different manner for the minister to give the sign of peace after the anointing, either to each individual or to all the newly confirmed together.”

Information on other effects and broader matters concerning this sacrament can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1285–1321.

Heaven help us: Confirmation name

In many English-speaking countries and in German-speaking lands, in Poland, and in Lithuania, it is customary for a person being confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church (and some Anglican dioceses) to adopt the name of a saint whom that person admires or feels a special affinity with, thus securing an additional patron saint as protector and guide. This practice is unknown in many other countries (including the Spanish-speaking countries and French-speaking lands, and in Italy), and is not mentioned in the official liturgical book of the Rite of Confirmation. Obviously, the custom prevailing in a country influences, often decisively, the practice of immigrants from another country, even if they keep their own language.

The saint’s name is often used in conjunction with the confirmee’s middle name, but is without effect in civil law, unless, of course, the confirmand pursues the appropriate legal avenues.

Does Being Catholic Make a Difference?

Article by Fr. Ray Ryland (Reprint from the May 1995 issue of This Rock magazine.

Does Being Catholic Make a Difference?

Does being Catholic make a difference in a person’s life? Does it make an eternal difference? At first thought, maybe not. Vatican II’s <Constitution on the Church> seems to point in that direction. Section 16 names several categories of persons outside the Catholic Church who can (not necessarily will) be saved. The list includes non-Catholic Christians, Jews, Muslims, those who seek the unknown God, even those who have no explicit knowledge of God. Persons such as these can be saved if they earnestly seek to respond to God and to love him on the basis of the best information available to them.

Some people conclude that if it is possible for such people to be saved, there is no point in being a Catholic. Yet there is more to consider. Start with our Lord’s command about moral and spiritual growth. “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48, RSV)

When I was a child someone gave me a statue of three little monkeys sitting side by side. Using their paws, one covered his mouth, another his eyes, the third one his ears. This was the well-known “speak-no-evil, see-no-evil, hear-no-evil” trio. In later years I sometimes thought of those monkeys when I read Matthew 5:48. Their message has merit, but is hardly an accurate commentary on our Lord’s command.

Consider the word we translate “perfect.” In Greek <teleios> does not refer to abstract or metaphysical perfection. It is a functional term. To be perfect a thing must realize fully the purpose for which it has been produced. <Teleios> comes from the noun <telos>, which means purpose, end, goal.

“You must be perfect” means each of us must strive to develop his unique potential, under God, to the fullest possible extent. These words are both command and promise. The imperative is laid upon us who follow Christ, but we know that only the grace of God can bring about this process of sanctification.

Why this requirement for Christians to seek sanctification in this life? If heaven is our goal, why could not our Lord have narrowed the command to “become at least good enough to qualify for heaven”? Why not, unless the degree of fulfillment as a Christian which one achieves in this life has eternal implications?

Protestants always have criticized Catholic teaching on sanctification. On the one hand, they assume that striving for sanctification undercuts justification by faith. Sanctification is a “work,” a contribution we try to make to our salvation. (Traditional Baptists reject the whole concept of sacrament for essentially this reason.)

On the other hand, in the Protestant approach to the Christian faith there is no real need for emphasizing growth in sanctity. Once you have accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, your salvation is assured. Indeed, for the converted (“born-again”) Fundamentalist, salvation is absolutely assured. At the moment of death, if you are “saved,” Christ takes you immediately into heaven. And that’s it.

All beliefs have consequences. The Protestant lack of an imperative toward sanctity has had consequences. One was brought to my attention years ago, when I was a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York. One of the visiting professors was Douglas Steere, who was a Quaker. He was recognized widely as a leading Protestant authority on devotional theology, what Catholics call “spirituality.”

Dr. Steere gave our class a lengthy bibliography (more than a hundred titles) and told us to read as much and as widely as possible. After two or three days’ work in the library with his bibliography, I went to his office. I told him that his course was very helpful, but, I said, “All these books (with a handful of exceptions) are Catholic books. I’m not interested in what the Catholics have to say about prayer. I’m a Protestant. I need some Protestant books to read.”

He smiled as he acknowledged that practically all his sources were Catholic. “In all these years Protestantism simply hasn’t developed a literature on prayer. We all have to go Catholic sources to learn about prayer.” Perhaps Dr. Steere suspected the Catholic

Church was on to something in its understanding of sanctification.

Let’s take a look at what the Church believes. The level of spiritual maturity we have attained at the moment of death is the level at which we shall be perfected through our experience of purgatory. It is the level at which we shall spend eternity. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or ill, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor. 5:10). A proverb has it, “As the tree falls, so it lies.”

Our capacity for the Beatific Vision is determined forever at the moment of death. Capacities will vary. Take two containers, one large, one small, and fill each with water. They are equally full, but they hold different amounts of water. So will it be in heaven. There will be varying degrees of blessedness in the lives of the redeemed in heaven; they will be equally full, but with unequal amounts.

“In my Father’s house there are many rooms,” Jesus assures us (John 14:2). Augustine says the “rooms” or “mansions” refer to different degrees of rewards in heaven (Tract. 67), and Thomas Aquinas concurs (<Summa Theologiae>, q. 18, a.2). In the following article Thomas adds, “The more one will be united to God the happier will one be.”

The Council of Florence in 1439 taught that those who have incurred no sin after baptism, and those who have been cleansed of all stain of sin, will “clearly behold the triune God as he is, yet one person more perfectly than another according to the difference of their merits.” The Greek version of the conciliar teaching ends with the words, “according to the worth of their lives.”

In a “Letter on Eschatology,” issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1979, we are reminded that, with regard to life after death, we “must firmly hold” two essential points. The first is that there is continuity “between our present life in Christ and the future life.”

The <Constitution on the Church> (section 49) speaks of the life of the redeemed in heaven in these words: “All of us, however, in varying degrees and in different ways, share in the same charity towards God and our neighbors, and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God.”

At this point someone might say, “All I care about is getting into heaven. All I want is to have those pearly gates slam shut behind me and not in front of me.” Sometimes a student will say, “All I want out of this course is a passing grade; I don’t care about anything else.” If that student does get his passing grade, he will get little else out of the course. As for the man at the pearly gates, with that self-centered attitude he may well see the gates slam shut in front of him.

If spouses truly, deeply love one another, they yearn for, they work for, the closest possible union of life. Pity the poor spouses who say, “We don’t really work at our marriage any more. After all, we have enough love going to make sure we won’t split and divorce.” Not only are they denying themselves the deep joy and fulfillment of marriage. They have set a collision course with unhappiness and even the break-up of their marriage.

Consider some of the Church’s teaching about itself. Jesus entrusted “all the blessings of the new covenant” to “the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head.” “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help towards salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained” (<Decree on Ecumenism>, 3).

The next section of the <Decree> contains says “the Catholic Church has been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace. . . .” Does it not follow that anyone not in the communion of the Catholic Church does not have access to all divinely revealed truth and that the non-Catholic does not have access to all the means of grace by which Christ intends to nourish his people?

“Baptism,” says the <Decree> (section 22), “constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn.” Immediately it clarifies this statement by adding that baptism in itself “is only a beginning, a point of departure.” Baptism is “wholly directed toward the acquiring of fullness of life in Christ.” That fullness—and note the recurring adjective—is “a complete profession of faith, a complete incorporation into the system of salvation such as Christ himself willed it to be, and . . . a complete integration into Eucharistic communion.”

This can only mean that sincere non-Catholics have not fully embraced the truth of the gospel. If a non-Catholic does believe all that the Church teaches but chooses to remain outside its communion, he is in grave peril of everlasting damnation. The Second Vatican Council teaches that “the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: The one Christ is mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church” (<Constitution on the Church>, 14). Then come these words: “Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it.”

These words from the <Decree on Ecumenism> can only mean that sincere non-Catholics have not been, and as non-Catholics cannot be, fully incorporated into “the system of salvation such as Christ himself willed it to be . . . .” Not having full access to all of Christ’s gifts to his people necessarily prevents a non-Catholic from attaining to the greatest possible degree of spiritual maturity, the deepest sanctification, in this life. The fact that an individual non-Catholic’s sanctity may—and in many instances probably does—greatly exceed that of many Catholics is irrelevant. The point is that the non-Catholic will not have developed in this life, by God’s grace, the capacity for the Beatific Vision he could have attained as a Catholic.

The <Decree on Ecumenism> speaks directly of the deprivation suffered by non-

Catholics. (This, of course, does not apply to members of the Eastern Churches, which have preserved the apostolic succession and all the sacraments.) Non-Catholics “are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those to whom he has given new birth into one body and whom he has quickened to newness of life—that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim” (section 3).

Most serious of all, non-Catholic communities “have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of orders . . .” (section 22). Therefore their members are not being fully fed as Christ intends them to be fed—on himself.

From time to time during my childhood in the Depression years, our family would want something, and in many cases need something, for which we simply had no money. My usual childish, impatient response was to ask, “Then what will we do?” One of my parents would always answer, “What will we do? We’ll do without! That’s what we’ll do.” And the subject was closed.

Jesus Christ gives his Church incalculable riches for the benefit of all his people. What are non-Catholics to do about much—even most—of this treasure? They simply “do without” and through no particular fault of their own. But someone is at fault. You and I are at fault, for not witnessing more faithfully and zestfully, for making no effort to bring fellow-Christians into the fullness of their rightful heritage

The failure (dare I say “refusal”?) of Catholics to evangelize reminds me of a melancholy passage in Acts 19:1ff. The apostle Paul came to Ephesus and found there some followers of Jesus. He asked if they had received the Holy Spirit when they began believing in Jesus. Their answer was, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” They had never heard of the greatest gift God wanted to bestow on them!

For non-Catholic Christians there are countless gifts which are waiting for them and about which they know nothing. One can imagine their responding to a forthright proclamation of the Catholic faith in a manner somewhat like that of those ancient Ephesians:

“We love Jesus, but we have ever heard we can literally receive him into our bodies, in his full humanity and divinity!”

“We know that on Calvary Jesus offered himself to the Father, but we have never even heard that he commands us to join him in re-presenting himself to the Father in every Eucharistic celebration!”

“We know that Jesus has spoken to us through Scriptures, but we have never even heard that he speaks to us today directly through the successor of Peter!”

Why have they not heard? Why are we not telling them? For many reasons, I suppose. Let me speak of one. It involves something we call “bugaboo.”

A “bugaboo,” according to Webster, is “an imaginary object of fear.” Bugaboos are used to frighten people away from a duty or even an otherwise desirable opportunity. For decades, dissenting Catholics and lazy Catholics have used a bugaboo to inhibit or dilute authentic Catholic excitement about the Church and about the joy of being Catholic.

The bugaboo is a vague, trumped-up sin called “triumphalism.” Repeatedly we have been told by these bugaboo-ers that if you say positively the Catholic Church is the one true Church, if you enthusiastically speak of the inestimable benefits and graces of being Catholic, if you aggressively seek to bring others—Christian as well as unbaptized—into the Church, then you’re being “triumphalistic.”

The strategy of this bugaboo is to identify articulate, enthusiastic Catholic witness with self-aggrandizing boasting. It is a false identification. We know we can’t boast about the Church, because we didn’t invent the Catholic faith. All we can do is give thanks for our privilege and express that thanks in witness to non-Catholics.

On this point the Second Vatican Council speaks to each of us. “All children of the Church should nevertheless remember that their exalted condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ.” (The phrase “exalted condition” in context means being inheritors of all the riches of Christ in his Church.) In the spirit of Jesus’ words, “From him who has been given much, much will be expected,” the Council issues a solemn warning. If the children of the Church “fail to respond in thought, word, and deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be the more severely judged” (<Constitution on the Church>, 14)

Being Catholic makes a difference, an eternal difference. But what are we Catholics doing to help others share in our “exalted condition”?

About the Author

Fr. Ray Ryland, a convert from the Episcopal Church, taught theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville and the University of San Diego. He is now on the staff of Catholic Answers.

The Garden of Eden 2.0: Coming to a Church Near You

Jacob De Baker

What do the Holy Grail, Fountain of Youth and the Garden of Eden all have in common?  People are looking for them but cannot seem to find them.  The funny thing is, you can find all three at your local Church…well, a traditional parish.  That being said, we are continuing our discussion on the five gardens found in the Church.  As a refresher, we have discussed three thus far.  They  include:

But the forth Garden is much closer we could ever imagine.  So, what should we be looking for in this new and improved Garden of Eden?  I think we should attempt to identify these key elements from the original garden.  They include:

  • Angel guarding the entrance
  • Adam/husband
  • Eve/bride
  • Presence of God
  • Place of solitude or sanctuary
  • Tree of life
  • Tree of knowledge of good and evil
  • Work
  • Protection
  • Life giving waters
  • A place of delight
  • Covenant

I would propose that our Lord at His resurrection, opened the gates to Eden on earth to prepare us for our Eternal Eden in heaven.  That Eden is our local parish.

Did you ever notice that in many traditional churches while walking in you pass through angels who are standing at attention or offering living water to you?  Or, how about the the baptismal font near the entrance that flows with (living) holy water.  Isn’t it at the font where we see children born without birth pangs?  Maybe when we looked down the aisle we could see the tree of life (crucifix) which spewed forth living water when our Lord was pierced with a lance.  If we are lucky, we will see the tabernacle in which Emmanuel  chooses to dwell perpetually as long as the Blessed Sacrament is present.  On each side of the tabernacle, we would see a menorah or candelabra.  The ancient Rabbis said that the lit menorah was a symbol of the tree of knowledge for it gives us light to see.

As we all gather for Mass, the bishop and/or priest(s) process into the Church and take their place in the sanctuary.  The bishop or priest as he celebrates the Divine Liturgy (work of the people) stands in persona Christi.  The Bridegroom is present.  Who does He look upon but the People of God or, as Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) article 7 states, the Bride of Christ.  In that sanctuary, the bishop or priest celebrate the new covenant as He commanded through the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  The words of institution are His vows to us.

As we walk up to receive communion, the Bridegroom gives Himself to the Bride totally and completely through the Eucharist.  Our “Amen” is our vow to Him.  We receive Him, His whole person, which bears new life within us.

We may also remember that adovah means work and prayer.  Both work (liturgy) and prayer happen during the Mass.  Through the gift of the Magisterium, what is proclaimed through those sacred rites are true.  The Magisterium shamar (protects) us from outside influences and ourselves.  The Magisterium protects the whole person.  As Acts 4:32 proclaims, “They were of one mind (Teaching) and heart (Will or action through the sacraments)” which strengthens, feeds, washes and adorns us body and soul.

So, next time you go to Mass or even walk into your parish…welcome home to the fourth garden, the  Garden of the Church.

Controversy of Dei Verbum Article 11 (Part 2 of 2)

Reacting to Modern Biblical Scholarship

Even with such a legacy and clear teaching, popular biblical scholars like the late Fr. Raymond Brown[1] continue to call into question the total inerrancy of Sacred Scriptures by ignoring and twisting not only Article 11 but even the preceding documents found in the associated five footnotes.  For example, in the appendix of his book, Biblical Reflections on Crisis Facing the Church, Fr. Brown discusses that, “In many other biblical matters it repeated the status quo achieved under Pius XII, and in regard to the inspiration of the Scriptures it simply reiterates past positions.”[2] He then goes on to state that Christians in the past have found it “repugnant” to “posit” error in Scripture due to God being the efficient cause of the scared script.  However, “Only gradually have we learned to distinguish that while all Scripture is inspired, all Scripture is not inerrant.”[3] After Fr. Brown has narrowed the “scope of inerrancy”[4] to areas “when an affirmation of truth is involved,”[5] he then states that many passages are subject to error “where the matter of inerrancy does not even arise” due to different genres and literary styles.  Fr. Brown even dares to state that, “Already in Providentissimus Deus (1893) Pope Leo XIII acknowledged that the scientific affirmations of the Bible were not necessarily inerrant, since it was not God’s purpose to teach men science.”[6]

To understand the implications and logical conclusions of Fr. Brown’s train of thought, one only needs to refer to the following two brief examples:

The New Testament gives us no reason to think that Jesus and Paul were not deadly serious about the demonic world…. I do not believe the demons inhabit desert places or the upper air, as Jesus and Paul thought… I see no way to get around the difficulty except by saying that Jesus and Paul were wrong on this point. They accepted the beliefs of their times about demons, but those beliefs were superstitious.[7]

And again:

We cannot assume that Jesus shared our own sophistication on some of these questions [on afterlife]. If Jesus speaks of heaven above the clouds . . . how can we be sure that he knew it was not above the clouds?[8]

Clearly, Fr. Brown has misunderstood and, dare it be said, misappropriated the teachings elucidated in Article 11 and the Church documents that form a firm foundation beneath it.  Fr. Brown’s influence and thinking was not confined to his own classes at Union Theological College in New York City or the articles written for numerous periodicals and magazines, but extend to popular biblical tools such as the New Jerome Biblical Commentary.[9]

In contrast to Fr. Brown’s understanding of Article 11 of Dei Verbum and the documents that support it, the ordinary Magisterium has given many key texts to not only demonstrate the Word of God’s inerrancy, but also to provide a proper framework to correctly interpret the sacred text.  In response to Fr. Brown’s misuse of Providentissimus Deus and Pope Leo XIII laying the groundwork for Scripture not being completely inerrant, one must wonder how Fr. Brown skipped over Article 20 which states:

For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true.[10] (Emphasis added by author)

Not only does Pope Leo XIII affirm the time-held doctrine of plenary and verbal inspiration but also appeals to the De Fide doctrine that God is absolute veracity.[11] Pope Leo XIII also states in the following article that the Church has not just invented the idea that Scripture is inerrant, but relies on the witness of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church:

And so emphatically were all the Fathers and Doctors agreed that the divine writings, as left by the hagiographers, are free from all error, that they laboured earnestly, with no less skill than reverence, to reconcile with each other those numerous passages which seem at variance – the very passages which in great measure have been taken up by the “higher criticism;” for they were unanimous in laying it down, that those writings, in their entirety and in all their parts were equally from the afflatus of Almighty God, and that God, speaking by the sacred writers, could not set down anything but what was true.[12]

It is equally unfortunate that Fr. Brown did not see the continuity of the ordinary Magisterium that Pius XII successfully established between his papacy and that of Pope Leo XIII’s teachings on inerrancy.  Perhaps biblical scholarship would have a deeper appreciation of how to interpret Sacred Scripture while affirming its inerrancy by continuously remembering the words of Pius XII in Divino Afflante Spirtu:

The first and greatest care of Leo XIII was to set forth the teaching on the truth of the Sacred Books and to defend it from attack. Hence with grave words did he proclaim that there is no error whatsoever if the sacred writer, speaking of things of the physical order “went by what sensibly appeared” as the Angelic Doctor says,[5] speaking either “in figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many instances are in daily use at this day, even among the most eminent men of science.”[13]

In this text it is clear that Pope Pius XIII wanted to emphasize immediately the care that Leo XIII used to protect Sacred Scripture from the very error this paper discusses.  He also appeals to common sense and encourages the student of Sacred Scripture to remember that the Holy Writ is expressed in a particular fashion.[14] Immediately following this text is a quote from St. Augustine who eloquently illustrates the true meaning of “for the sake of salvation” and where the blame lies in the misinterpretation of the Word of God.  St. Augustine also shares the key to ascertaining the origin of a perceived contradiction in the Bible – humility.  In the words of St. Augustine:

…the Holy Spirit, Who spoke by them, did not intend to teach men these things – that is the essential nature of the things of the universe – things in no way profitable to salvation”; which principle “will apply to cognate sciences, and especially to history,”[7] that is, by refuting, “in a somewhat similar way the fallacies of the adversaries and defending the historical truth of Sacred Scripture from their attacks.”[8] Nor is the sacred writer to be taxed with error, if “copyists have made mistakes in the text of the Bible,” or, “if the real meaning of a passage remains ambiguous.” Finally it is absolutely wrong and forbidden “either to narrow inspiration to certain passages of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred,” since divine inspiration “not only is essentially incompatible with error but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and constant faith of the Church.[15]

It is only fair that I admit that while Fr. Brown has been used as an illustrative example, his line of thinking and conclusions are not reserved just to him or the scholastic elite.  It is rampant throughout society and the Church – regardless of Christian denomination or Rite.  The inerrancy of Sacred Scripture, since the advent of Modernism, has been thought of as a belief for the religious fanatic and the mindless and historical simpleton.  The naiveté of Christians over the last six years since the publication of the Da Vinci Code illustrates how easily Gnostic-based fiction can parade around as truth.

The issue of inerrancy is especially an important topic that all clerics, religious, and catechists, regardless of the age group being taught, should grapple with and come to understand.  The Bible is key in the evangelization and catechesis of the People of God.  Unfortunately, even among the clergy and catechists, inerrancy is misunderstood.  During a time of unprecedented scientific discovery and modern advances, it can be difficult for the clergy, let alone average church-goers, to reconcile the apparent contradictions in Sacred Scripture without appealing solely to historical criticism and science.

To compound the issue, Religious Education is no longer just a passing on of the truths of the faith.  The first step for Religious Education is the process of establishing that there are absolutes.  Not just moral absolutes, but absolutes that govern all creation – what we can see and what we can only perceive through reason supernaturally enlightened by faith.  Only when the teacher (whether in the classroom or the pulpit) has established the necessity of God can the student (or congregation) begin to believe that He has spoken to His people.

Dei Verbum was the right medicine for biblical scholarship and the People of God.  While certain scholars continue to argue the meaning of Dei Verbum §11 by focusing in on the debates and what the Commission “really wanted to say,” the truth is, more and more Catholics are paying attention to what the conciliar Fathers said; Sacred Scripture is inerrant “wholly and entirely, with all their parts,”[16] and “everything affirmed in the Bible is true – not only matters of faith and morals and facts bound up with the history of salvation.”[17]

…a Future and a Hope (Jer. 29:11)

This reflection has focused on much of the controversy and misunderstanding of Dei Verbum.  I would be remiss not briefly mention the great fruits.  The document as a whole “fan[ned] into flame”[18] the desire of many Catholics to reapply their energies in the study of Sacred Scripture and breathed new life into faithful biblical scholarship.  After forty-five years since Dei Verbum’s promulgation good fruit has been harvested including: good biblical commentaries that are faithful to Magisterium are available through a variety of media; Catholic Bible Study groups and guilds have formed to learn more about the living Word; and lay Catholics are reclaiming their inheritance once perceived to be the book of our separated brethren.  St. Jerome is quoted as saying that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”[19] As Dei Verbum brings the People of God back to a true understanding of Scripture and its relation to the Magisterium, society through the average church-goers will begin to hear and believe the one who says, “Let not your hearts be troubled,”[20] for “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”[21]

Selected Bibliography

Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani. Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1970.

Brown, S.S., Raymond E., Biblical Reflections on Crisis Facing the Church. NewYork,  NY/Paramus, NJ: Paulist Press, 1975.

. Jesus, God and Man. Hampshire: Macmillan, 1967.

. St. Anthony’s Messenger, May 1971.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd. Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997.

Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation: Dei Verbum. Boston, MA: Pauline Books and Media, 1965.

Harrison, O.S., Brian W., “The Truth and Salvific Purpose of Sacred Scripture According to Dei Verbum, Article 11”, Living Tradition Organ of the Roman Theological Forum, no. 59. July 1995

Latourell, S.J., René, Theology of Revelation. Steten Island, NY: Alba House, 1966.

Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus. 1893.

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.(emeritus), and Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm. (emeritus) (Englewood Cliffs. NJ: Prentice Hall, 1968.

Ott, Dr. Ludwig, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishing, 1974.

Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Divino Afflante Spiritu, 1943.


[1] Fr. Brown past away on August 8, 1998 at St. Patrick’s Seminary in California where he resided in retirement.

[2] Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Biblical Reflections on Crisis Facing the Church, (NewYork, NY: Paulist Press 1975) 115.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Raymond E. Brown, St. Anthony’s Messenger, May 1971, 47-48.

[8] Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Jesus, God and Man, (Hampshire: Macmillan 1967), 56.

[9] The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.(emeritus), and Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm. (emeritus) (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall 1968), 1169 §14.

[10] Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus, 18 November 1893, §20

[11] Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishing 1974), 34

[12] Ibid., §21

[13] Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Divino Afflante Spiritu, 30 September 1943, §3.

[14] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, §110

[15] Divino Afflante Spiritu, 3.

[16] Cf. note 23.

[17] Cf. note 11.

[18] 2 Timothy 1:6

[19] Commentary on Isaiah (Nn. 1.2: CCL 73, 1-3), St. Jerome

[20] John 14:1

[21] John 14:6

Controversy of Dei Verbum Article 11 (Part 1 of 2)

The Church is awaiting Pope Benedict XVI Apostolic Letter concerning the Word of God.  Word on the street is that is will be promulgated shortly after Easter.  To help focus our hearts and minds on Scripture during the final days of Lent, I thought we might first consider modern challenges to the truth of the Sacred Writ over the next few days.  Enjoy and let me hear from you….

Introducing the Problem

“Man tends by nature toward the truth;”[1] however, what happens when a society questions the possibility of truth?  How does a society find its way while it is immersed in a culture imbued by nominalism and uncertainty?  Daily, the typical Catholic participates in, or hears discussions, testing the veracity of truth.  Whether in the office, at a scholastic institution, or during a conversation at the office, Pilate’s response to our Lord, “Quid est veritas”[2] is a common acclamation.

Society is looking for truth, or more correctly, it is searching for the certitude that something can be true.  For centuries, Christendom turned to Sacred Scripture as a reliable source to know how to think, act, live, and pass on to glory.  During this modern era, even within the Church, biblical scholars have joined the chorus of modern rationalism in approaching Scripture with the same question, “What is truth?”  This reflection will attempt to offer a closer look at the importance and application of Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Article 11 in relation to biblical inerrancy.  This shall be accomplished by examining a short history of Dei Verbum §11, the interpretation of the Council Fathers, common controversy in modern biblical scholarship, and a brief reaction to those controversies.

Interpretation of the Council Fathers

The Second Vatican Council on November 14, 1962, began to prepare the organization and outline for a document focused on divine revelation.[3] The first construct was composed of five chapters including: “1.The twofold Source of Revelation; 2. Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Literary Genre; 3. Old Testament; 4. New Testament; 5. Sacred Scripture in the Church.”[4] Fr. René Latourelle, S.J., in his book, Theology of Revelation, explains that at the outset there were concerns about the content of the document.  Among the concerns was the question of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition; a concern for ecumenical dialogue; and an awareness that the Protestants were “prepared to judge the Council largely on the basis of its attitude” towards Scripture.[5] After five schemas, a special commission, and two revised texts of the final draft, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation was solemnly promulgated by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI on November 18, 1965 – but not without a key discussion concerning Pilate’s query, what is true in the Holy Writ.

Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., in his article, The Truth and Salvific Purpose of Sacred Scripture According to Dei Verbum, Article 11, focuses in on the discussion of the fourth draft.  Fr. Harrison shares that the previous drafts of the document held the traditional view of biblical inerrancy by simply affirming, “the Bible to be ‘completely free of all error’ (second draft) or that it ‘teaches the truth without any error’ (third draft).”[6] To the dismay of many of the conciliar Fathers, in the fourth draft,

…the “word ‘any’ (ullo) was omitted before ‘error’ and the word ‘saving’ or “salvific” (salutarem) was added to qualify ‘truth.’ The official explanation for these amendments given to the Fathers by the relator on behalf of the Council’s Theological Commission was that they were intended to ‘express the effect of inspiration positively and to ‘circumscribe clearly the object of inerrancy.’[7]

Fr. Harrison continued in his article stating that there was a move by the more liberal conciliar Fathers to limit the coverage of Sacred Scripture’s inerrancy to faith and morals and “the facts which are linked to the history of salvation.”[8] A case in point was the statement made by Cardinal Franz König, who, claiming to speak on behalf of all the German bishops, said that modern advances “demonstrate that the Bible’s references to matters of history and natural science sometimes fall short of the truth,” and went on to give three examples of such alleged errors in Scripture.”[9] This led many of the more traditional conciliar Fathers to point out that the word “facts” could leave the room for the interpretation that there are some parts of Scripture that are not inerrant.  In the end, the verbiage of the fourth draft was retained and reads:

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.[10]

While many of the conciliar Fathers disagreed with the omission of the word “ullo” and the addition of the word “salutarem”, the Theological Commission did offer an explanation that adhered to the traditional Catholic teaching on inerrancy.  The explanation the Commission published is necessary for the correct interpretation of the Council’s teaching.  The explanation states:

By the term “salvific” (salutarem) it is by no means suggested that Sacred Scripture is not in its integrity the inspired Word of God. …This expression does not imply any material limitation to the truth of Scripture, rather, it indicates Scripture’s formal specification, the nature of which must be kept in mind in deciding in what sense everything affirmed in the Bible is true – not only matters of faith and morals and facts bound up with the history of salvation. For this reason the Commission has decided that the expression should be retained.[11]

The Commission’s explanation clearly states the intent of Article 11 and affirms that everything within the Holy Writ is true.  At the same time, the Commission addresses the reality that the reader “must take into account the considerations of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking, and narrating then current.”[12] The Commission’s explanation is not the only legacy that the conciliar Fathers left the Church to demonstrate Sacred Scripture’s inerrancy.  Possibly even more important are the five footnotes that together form a framework to not only show continuity between the ordinary and extraordinary Magisterium but provide a filter to understand how to correctly interpret apparent contradictions.  Due to the length of this reflection it is not possible to give the necessary discussion that each document deserves; however, I do find it important to at least list all the footnotes and references including:

Footnote 1:

  • First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chap 2: “On Revelation” Denzinger 1787
  • Biblical Commission, Decree of June 18, 1915, Denzinger 2180
  • Holy Office, Epistle of Dec. 22, 1923, EB 499

Footnote 2:

  • Pius XII encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu, Sept. 30, 1943, AAS 35, p. 314.

Footnote 3:

  • First Vatican Council, Schema on Catholic Doctrine, note 9, Coll Lac VII, 522.

Footnote 4:

  • Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, 1893, Denzinger 1952.

Footnote 5:

  • St. Augustine, The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, 2, 9, 20
  • St. Augustine, Epistle 82, 3
  • St. Thomas, “On Truth,” Question 12, Article 2, c.
  • Council of Trent, Session IV, Scriptural Canons, Denzinger 783
  • Leo XIII, encyclical Providentissimus Deus
  • Pius XII, encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu [13]

To be continued…


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd (Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1997), §2467.

[2] John 18:38 RSVCE (Revised Standard Catholic Edition)

[3] René Latourell, S.J., Theology of Revelation (Steten Island, NY: Alba House 1966), 453.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Brian W. Harrison, “The Truth and Salvific Purpose of Sacred Scripture According to Dei Verbum, Article 11”, Living Tradition Organ of the Roman Theological Forum, no.59 (July 1995) : 2.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation: Dei Verbum (Boston, MA: Pauline Books and Media 1965)  9 §11

[11] Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II, IV, V, 709

[12] Catechism of the Catholic Church §110

[13] Dei Verbum, 20.