Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Ecclesiology

Plan A: The Blessed Trinity Revealed in Marriage

For those of us who remember the Baltimore Catechism, you likely have those fond memories of Sr. Mary Margaret asking you:

  • “Who made us?”
  • “Why did God make us?”
  • “What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven?”

We quickly answered with the appropriate memorized formula and saved our souls from parochial perdition. These are important questions because they address the most basic needs of what it means to be a human being. For us, married men and those who will be following in our footsteps, one of the most intriguing statements we should ask questions about is,

The LORD God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

But why?  The answer to this question seems to be hidden in the reason for our creation:

Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.” (Genesis 1:26)

Traditionally, we as Catholics, have understood that to be made in the image and likeness of God is to have a spiritual soul that is endowed with the powers of intellect and will: one power to know the truth and the other to choose the good. These powers alone neither sufficiently describe the human person nor explain what it means to be in God’s image and likeness. To answer these questions we need to see how our father, Adam, dealt with these questions.

We know that after Adam was created he experience what JPII termed the “Original Solitude.” This solitude was two-fold. It was first experienced after God led all the animals to Adam who then named them (Genesis 2:20) and found that “none were a suitable partner for him.” It was then Adam discovered that he was substantially different and alone, precisely because he was the only rational being around. Only he could name and till. He discovered that he was the only one who was self-aware. He knew what he was meant for. He knew and could talk with God.

The second experience was an ontological aloneness. We all have a need to share ourselves with an equal. Adam looked around and discovered that there was none like him. There was no one to share his life with. He was truly alone, he was the only human being.

We know the next part of the story…woman. The Lord gave Adam a suitable partner that we call Eve. Symbolized by God taking a rib from his side and forming it outside of Adam and not from dirt, the Lord teaches us that man and woman are equal in dignity. Suddenly, there was another that Adam could share his life with AND, he had no competition.

But, is this the meaning of what the Lord meant when He said that “it is not good for man to be alone.” – yes on one level. But, is there is a deeper truth that He wants us to see as well? The more profound truth is to see that “to be made in the image and likeness of God” and “it is not good for man to be alone” are two truths that find their meaning in each other. As it turns out, only Adam and Eve in their nuptial complimentarily can express the imago deo.

Man became the ‘image and likeness’ of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning…Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. Right ‘from the beginning,’ he is not only an image in which the solitude of a person who rules the world is reflected, but also, and essentially, an image of an inscrutable divine communion of persons.(TOB[1], November 14, 1979)

This human communion of persons is specifically male and female. Only man and woman can consummate the meaning of communion. This communion described in Genesis 2:23-24 dispels original solitude and ushers in the original unity of mankind. They may be alone in a world of creatures, but they have each other. We hear this when Adam exclaims,

This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh.

Communion is not just a spiritual or intellectual communion, but a bodily one as well.

Here we now begin to understand what the Lord meant when he formed us in His “image and likeness.” The Blessed Trinity is a communion of persons. In the nuptial act, Scripture teaches that the husband and wife become one flesh. Is this not how Jesus described his communion with the Father (John 10:30)? Isn’t this unity of persons how we describe the nature of the Trinity?

The Church teaches that the three Divine persons of the Trinity are consubstantial. The immanent[2] Trinity’s life is a relationship and life of eternal love. What do we know about this life of love? Revelation has unveiled for us that the Father and the Son’s eternal exchange of self-giving love is so complete that it is the person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has also taught us through the Last discourses of the Gospel of John that the Trinity is the template and “ideal” (my tribute to Plato) for marriage. The spiritual is revealed through the material and material is giving its true purpose through the mystery unveiled.

It is for this reason that the Church zealously protects the union of spouses. Not just the institution and sacrament of marriage, but the fullest expression of that unity which is their nuptial union. Nothing on earth better describes (although all analogies fall short of the eternal truth) the Trinity than the nuptial union and communion of a husband and wife that needs to name their love.

The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God [God’s love for man], and thus to be a sign of it. (TOB, February 20, 1980)

All the sins we connect with sexuality are not just sins of the flesh against us or “the other.” They are also sins against the Most Holy Trinity. The marital gift is meant to point towards an eternal communion and provide that material for meditation to ponder the nature of who God is. The Culture of Death, on the other hand, twists this sacred act and thus who God is and what it means to love not only God but each other:

God created man and woman in such a way that through their bodies it would be self-evident to them that they are called to love, called to give themselves to one another. The very purpose and meaning of life is found in this imaging of God by becoming a gift to another. “God is love.” (1 Jn. 4:16) Therefore, we fulfill the reason for our existence by loving. Our physical bodies were made precisely to show us this and be the means by which we accomplish this. (Anastasia M. Northrop, “The Sincere Gift of Self: The Nuptial Meaning of the Body, October 16, 2003)

Husbands and fathers have an enormous opportunity to teach their children from an early age what marriage and marital communion is meant to point to. They need to hear and see (by word and deed) that our marriage and communion is not only meant to “incarnate” the Trinity, but prepare us to experience the eternal communion of the supper of the Lamb. This is the husband’s responsibility: first with our wives and then our children:

The husband is above all, he who loves and the wife, on the other hand is she who is loved. (TOB, September 1, 1982)

Our children (and the world) need to see we love our wives. And it must start in our hearts. We are meant to express that love first in all that we do and say. Do we hug our wives? Do we say I love you? Did you know that flowers are for more than apologizing or “buttering her up” for something?

From the all eternity the Eternal Father designed marriage to be the instrument to get our spouse to heaven. Pope John Paul II went to great pains to correct the common misunderstanding and attitude that Marriage was somehow inferior to Holy Orders as a means to heaven. He said in his Letter to Families (Familiaris Consortio):

The sacrament of marriage is the specific source and original means of sanctification for Christian married couples and families.

Marriage and the nuptial union are not at odds with celibacy and Holy Orders. In fact, they compliment and vivify each other. While marriage “incarnates” the Blessed Trinity here on earth, Holy Orders points to the consummation of our true marriage and experiencing the life of the Trinity in heaven. There is no marriage between human beings in heaven because we the bride are eternally wed to the heavenly Bridegroom.

The joys of marriage and heaven are too sublime to worthily treat on this blog or in all the tomes of the saints that have passed on to us. But hopefully, this will light a passion in our hearts to study more on the subject and provide a few tidbits for our minds to consider today. Happy Friday!

[1] TOB is a reference to Pope John Paul II’s Wednesday catechetical teachings known as the Theology of the Body.

[2] Immanent Trinity – The internal life of the Trinity; how the divine persons relate to and act within their interior communion.

Today, We Honor You Who Faithfully Intercede for Us

I credit my conversion and love of Scripture to my paternal grandmother whose heart belonged to the Mystical Rose of heaven. Today, on the Feast of All Souls, I will be remembering her and all those who have gone before me and continue to cheer me on to the finish line. I would like to honor three of them this afternoon.

My grandmother, Margaret Alfong Silva, was raised Buddhist in Honolulu Hawai’i. At age thirteen, she was walking past St. Therese’s church when she heard singing and went into the Church to investigate. As the story goes, the priest shared the gospel and she soon converted. Through her example, the majority of her family converted to Catholicism within a year or two. I have no memory of her without a Bible in one hand and a Rosary in the other. Even when she slept, the Holy Writ was pressed close to her heart. She is the one who taught me to pray the Rosary and to devote myself to the suffrage of the dead. Every Sunday we went to the cemetery where my grandfather, Manuel Marques Silva, was buried to pray and provide new flowers. I think her devotion in remembering the dead is deeply rooted in the Asian culture which was sanctified when she became Catholic.

Another individual I will remember today is Christy Ann Chronowski. In high school, she, and her two sisters Franny and Caroline, made me part of their family. I am not clear how it happened but suddenly I was part of their family and shared in all the benefits of having more siblings and a holy set of adopted parents. Christy and I went to high school and then college together. She was one of those rare souls that from an early age was on the fast-track to sanctity. In 1990, I remember sitting in her living room listening to and praying with her as she offered herself completely to the Lord for His glory – body and soul. Later that year she was diagnosed with cancer. Still, nothing deterred her from her love and faithfulness to Christ and His bride the Church. One day, when I called to check on her, she shared that she didn’t realize how vain she was until her hair was shaved off and then subsequently fell out due to her treatments. Even as she lay dying, she ministered to numerous priests and laity alike. Unfortunately, she succumbed to cancer in 1993.  Christy taught me to unfailingly oppose compromise in this life. Truth is essential. She taught me that charity does not exclude truth but only exists in its presence. Most of all, I experienced a love of an older sister who had no problem putting me in my place when needed it – thanks Christy.  I continue to ask my sister in heaven to intercede for me and I hope to join her one day. I figure she will have a better view of our Lord but frankly, I will be happy to be there.

Msgr. James McMutrie, priest of the Diocese of Arlington, may he rest in peace, was an Irishman that you either loved or loved to hate. There was no in-between. He has played a center role  in my life and I pray that he continues to do so until the Lord calls me home. On October 20, 1983, I was diagnosed with Epilepsy. At the time, I was having more than 10 grand mal seizures a night. Due to the physical abuse I was taking in the halls from my peers and the fact that several of my instructors did not want a “freak” in their class, he moved me from Lake Braddock to Holy Spirit (which we couldn’t afford0 in eighth grade.  Since we had no way of paying at the time the Principle told us to take a walk. He he sat down with her and assisted her in discerning her career options and became the benefactor for me. Needless to say, I was in class the next morning. Due to my medication regiment, have few memories of 1983/1984. However, I unfortunately do remember one evening when the medication-induced hallucinations became so bad that I saw the floor in my room disappear. In its place were flames and faces on my bedroom walls shouting obscenities at me. My father rescued me from that terror and I earn a stay at Georgetown. As you might expect, I refused to enter my room from that point forward. After six months, Monsignor came to the house and sent everyone away except the two of us. He prayed that the devil would be gone from that room and then blessed the walls and floor with holy water. After about an hour of coaxing, I entered my room again to stay. A month later he took me to a Mass and healing service celebrated by Fr. Ralph DiOrio. From that day forward, I stopped taking my medication cold-turkey and never had another seizure. Monsignor made sure that I went to Paul VI at which time, during my Sophemore year, I met the instructor who evangelize me and the rest is history. He had such an influence on me that my wife and I made him Nicholas’ godfather. As he was my oldest son’s godfather in life so too does he intercede for him in death.

There are many more beloved souls that have continued to assist me in my family’s pursuit of holiness. How about you? Who are the souls that have gone before you and assisted you in your pilgrimage to the Eternal City?  We would love to hear about them here at the Q Continuum. Until then,

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithfully departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen!

Who’s Who Cheat Sheet:Ecclesial Heraldry

Coats of Arms are emblems of nobility usually signifying an achievement. These prominent insignias find their origin with the military and medieval feudalism.The Vatican Web site explains:

Armour bearings have been in common use by soldiers and the nobility since the Middle Ages. This has given rise to a very specific heraldic language to regulate and describe civic heraldry.

At the same time, an ecclesiastical heraldry for clergy also developed. This heraldic usage follows exactly the same rules as civic heraldry with regard to the composition and definition of the shield, but surrounds it with religious or Church symbols and emblems according to one’s ecclesiastical rank in Holy Orders, jurisdiction and dignity.

The Coat of Arms is  typically emblazoned by certain metals, colors, figures and/or other special characteristics.

As an insignia of rank, Coats of Arms were adopted and integrated by the ecclesiastical dignitaries and religious communities to illustrate the individuals position or the special characteristic of a ministry, community or diocese.  The arms of (arch)diocese occupy the left side of the shield while the personal arms, the right.

One might think that the Coats of Arms are a left over, now forgotten, status symbol. In my opinion, it is more about manners than status. In the business world, you would not enter into a client’s or potential partner’s office without knowing who they are and what they do. In social circles, it is even more true that everyone associates themselves with those “dignitaries” of social importance – and we address them in particulars ways too. Modern society requires you to know what they look like so you can recognize them. Heraldry on the other hand, does not require a picture but an understanding of basic symbols and pictures. If you can count and see colors, you are in good shape.

The Church continues to use heraldry. Each Coat of Arms tells a story and helps the visitor understand who they are addressing. Granted, many of us today do not understand all the strips, stars, tassels and animals but with little effort, we can learn the ranking system. As you know, each prelate has a particular salutation that is appropriate to their rank and position. To assist in this endeavor (with the help of Ecclesiastical heraldry), the following are examples of the various ecclesial Coats of Arms:


Among all the heraldry, the Pope’s is the most recognizable and important. Tiara or the triple crown(tri-regnum), is not used in Pope Benedict XVI’s Coat of Arms ; crossed keys, one gold, one silver, in saltire (crossed); no motto; first officially used officially in the thirteenth century. Notice also the pallium that hangs from the bottom of the shield.

The Vatican Web site also explains His Holiness, Pope Benedit XVI’s heraldry:

Popes often used their family shield or composed their own with symbols indicating their ideal of life or referring to past events or experiences, or even elements connected with specific Pontifical programmes. At times, they even added a variant to a shield that they had adopted on becoming a Bishop.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, elected Pope and taking the name Benedict XVI, has chosen a coat of arms rich in symbolism and meaning that transmits to history his personality and Pontificate.

A coat of arms consists of a shield bearing several important symbols and surrounded by elements that indicate the person’s dignity, rank, title, jurisdiction and more.

The shield chosen by Pope Benedict XVI is very simple: it is in the shape of a chalice, the most commonly used form in ecclesiastical heraldry.

The field of Pope Benedict XVI’s shield, different from the composition on his shield as Cardinal, is now gules (red), chape or (gold). The principal field, in fact, is red.

In each of the upper corners there is a “chape” in gold. The “chape” [cape] is a symbol of religion. It indicates an idealism inspired by monastic or, more specifically, Benedictine spirituality. Various Orders and Congregations, such as the Carmelites and the Dominicans, have adopted in their arms the form of the “chape”, although the latter only used it in an earlier form rather than their present one. Benedict XIII (1724-1730) of the Order of Preachers used the “Dominican chief” [heraldic term: upper part of the field] which is white divided by a black “chape”.

Pope Benedict XVI’s shield contains symbols he had already used in his arms when he was Archbishop of Munich and Freising, and subsequently as Cardinal. However, they are arranged differently in the new composition.

The principal field of the coat of arms is the central one which is red. At the point of honour of the shield is a large gold shell that has a triple symbolism.

Its first meaning is theological. It is intended to recall a legend attributed to St Augustine. Meeting a child on the beach who was trying to scoop up the sea into a hole in the sand, Augustine asked him what he was doing. The child explained his vain attempt and Augustine took it to refer to his own futile endeavour to encompass the infinity of God within the confines of the limited human mind.

The legend has an obvious spiritual symbolism; it is an invitation to know God, yet with the humility of inadequate human understanding, drawing from the inexhaustible source of theology.

The scallop shell, moreover, has been used for centuries to distinguish pilgrims. Benedict XVI wanted to keep this symbolism alive, treading in the footsteps of John Paul II, a great pilgrim to every corner of the world. The design of large shells that decorated the chasuble he wore at the solemn liturgy for the beginning of his Pontificate, Sunday, 24 April, was most evident.

The scallop is also an emblem that features in the coat of arms of the ancient Monastery of Schotten near Regensburg (Ratisbon) in Bavaria, to which Joseph Ratzinger feels spiritually closely bound.

In the part of the shield called “chape”, there are also two symbols that come from the Bavarian tradition which Joseph Ratzinger introduced into his coat of arms when he became Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977.

In the dexter corner (to the left of the person looking at it) is a Moor’s head in natural colour [caput Aethiopum] (brown) with red lips, crown and collar. This is the ancient emblem of the Diocese of Freising, founded in the eighth century, which became a Metropolitan Archdiocese with the name of München und Freising in 1818, subsequent to the Concordat between Pius VII and King Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria (5 June 1817).

The Moor’s head is not rare in European heraldry. It still appears today in the arms of Sardinia and Corsica, as well as in the blazons of various noble families. Italian heraldry, however, usually depicts the Moor wearing a white band around his head instead of a crown, indicating a slave who has been freed; whereas in German heraldry the Moor is shown wearing a crown. The Moor’s head is common in the Bavarian tradition and is known as the caput Ethiopicum or the Moor of Freising.

A brown bear, in natural colour, is portrayed in the sinister (left) corner of the shield, with a pack-saddle on its back. An ancient tradition tells that the first Bishop of Freising, St Corbinian (born c. 680 in Châtres, France; died 8 September 730), set out for Rome on horseback. While riding through a forest he was attacked by a bear that tore his horse to pieces. Corbinian not only managed to tame the animal but also to make it carry his baggage to Rome. This explains why the bear is shown carrying a pack. An easy interpretation: the bear tamed by God’s grace is the Bishop of Freising himself; the pack saddle is the burden of his Episcopate.

The shield of the Papal coat of arms can therefore be described (“blazoned”) in heraldic terms as follows: “Gules, chape in or, with the scallop shell of the second; the dexter chape with a moor’s head in natural colour, crowned and collared of the first, the sinister chape a bear trippant in natural colour, carrying a pack gules belted sable”.

The shield carries the symbols connected to the person who displays it, to his ideals, traditions, programmes of life and the principles that inspire and guide him. The various symbols of rank, dignity and jurisdiction of the individual appear instead around the shield.

It has been a venerable tradition for the Supreme Pontiff to surround his armorial shield with crossed keys, one gold and the other silver, in the form of a St Andrew’s cross: these have been variously interpreted as symbols of spiritual and temporal power. They appear behind the shield or above it, and are quite prominent.

Matthew’s Gospel recounts that Christ said to Peter: “I will entrust to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16: 19). The keys are therefore the typical symbol of the power that Christ gave to St Peter and his Successors. Thus, it is only right that they appear in every Papal coat of arms.

In secular heraldry there is always some form of headpiece above the shield, usually a crown. In ecclesiastical heraldry it is also common for a headpiece to be shown, but obviously of an ecclesiastical kind.

The Supreme Pontiff’s arms have featured a “tiara” since ancient times. At the beginning this was a sort of closed “tocque”. In 1130 a crown was added, symbol of the Church’s sovereignty over the States.

Boniface VIII, in 1301, added a second crown, at the time of the confrontation with Philip the Fair, King of France, to show that his spiritual authority was superior to any civic authority.

It was Benedict XII in 1342 who added a third crown to symbolize the Pope’s moral authority over all secular monarchs, and reaffirmed the possession of Avignon.

With time, although it lost its temporal meaning, the silver tiara with three gold crowns came to represent the three powers of the Supreme Pontiff: Sacred Orders, Jurisdiction and Magisterium.

In past centuries, Popes wore the tiara at solemn official celebrations and especially on the day of the “coronation” at the beginning of their Pontificate. Paul VI used for this purpose a precious tiara which the Archdiocese of Milan had presented to him, just as it had given one to Pius XI; but afterwards, Paul VI donated it to a charity and introduced the current use of a simple “mitre”, although these mitres were sometimes embellished with ornaments or gems. But he left the “tiara” and the crossed keys as the emblem of the Apostolic See.

Today, the ceremony that begins a Pontificate is no longer called a “coronation”. The Pope’s full jurisdiction begins the moment he accepts his election by the Cardinals in the Conclave and not with coronation as for secular monarchs. This ceremony, therefore, is simply called the solemn inauguration of his Petrine Ministry, as it was for Benedict XVI on 24 April.

The Holy Father Benedict XVI decided not to include the tiara in his official personal coat of arms. He replaced it with a simple mitre which is not, therefore, surmounted by a small globe and cross as was the tiara.

The Papal mitre shown in his arms, to recall the symbolism of the tiara, is silver and bears three bands of gold (the three powers: Orders, Jurisdiction and Magisterium), joined at the centre to show their unity in the same person.

On the other hand, there is also a completely new symbol in the arms of Pope Benedict XVI: the “pallium”. It is not part of the tradition, at least in recent years, for the Supreme Pontiffs to include it in their arms.

Yet the pallium is the typical liturgical insignia of the Supreme Pontiff and frequently appears in ancient portrayals of Popes. It stands for the Pope’s responsibility as Pastor of the flock entrusted to him by Christ.

In early centuries the Popes used a real lambskin draped over their shoulders. This was later replaced by a stole of white wool woven with the pure wool of lambs reared specially for the purpose. It was decorated with several crosses that were generally black in the early centuries, or occasionally red. Already by the fourth century the pallium had become a liturgical symbol proper to and characteristic of the Pope.

The Pope’s conferral of the pallium upon Metropolitan Archbishops began in the sixth century. Their obligation to postulate the pallium after their appointment is attested as far back as the ninth century.

In the famous long iconographic series of medallions in St Paul’s Basilica that portrays all the Popes of history (the earliest portrayals are idealized), many Supreme Pontiffs are shown wearing the pallium, especially those between the fifth and 14th centuries.

The pallium is therefore not only the symbol of Papal jurisdiction, but also the explicit and brotherly sign of sharing this jurisdiction with the Metropolitan Archbishops, and through them, with their suffragan Bishops. It is thus the visible sign of collegiality and subsidiarity.

In heraldry in general, both civic and ecclesiastical (particularly for lower ranks), it is customary to place a ribbon or cartouche below the shield, bearing a motto or a heraldic device. It expresses in a few words an ideal or a programme of life.

In his Episcopal arms, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had chosen the motto “Cooperatores Veritatis”. This remains his aspiration or personal programme but does not appear in his Papal arms, in accordance with the tradition common to the Supreme Pontiffs’ arms in recent centuries.

We all remember that John Paul II would often quote his motto, “Totus Tuus”, although it did not feature in his Papal arms. The absence of a motto in the Pope’s arms implies openness without exclusion to all ideals that may derive from faith, hope and charity.

Personal heraldry


Metropolitan Cardinals’ arms (who is an archbishop)

Non-Metropolitan Cardinals’ arms (who is an archbishop)

Cardinals’ arms (who is not a bishop)

Patriarchs’ arms

Primates’ coat of arms (who isn’t a cardinal)

Archbishops’ coat of arms (version with pallium)

Archbishops’ coat of arms (versione without pallium)

Bishops’ coat of arms

Pope’s prelate’s coat of arms

Apostolic protonotary

Honour prelate’s coat of arms

Pope’s chaplain’s coat of arms

Constantinian order chaplain’s coat of arms

Major Superior/Vicar general

Canon’s (priest) coat of arms

Vicar forane/dean’s coat of arms

Priest’s coat of arms

Military chaplain’s (priest) coat of arms

Deacon’s coat of arms

Abbot Generals’ (Superior general) of the Premonstratensian Order coat of   arms

Territorial Abbots’ coat of arms

Abbot’s coat of arms

Order of Teutons

Grand Masters of the Knights of Malta

Orders and societies

Dominican Order

Cistercian order

Cistercian order

order of St. Augustin

Order of Friars Minor – the Franciscans

Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest

Fraternity of Saint Peter

Basilica heraldry

Maybe if you are visiting a Basilica but do not know whether it is a major or minor Basilica. Just look for these:

Basilica major

Basilica major

Basilica minor

Parlez-vous Gothic Cathedral?

The typical history book and professor would tell us that the hoi polloi of the European medieval period were a bunch of illiterates who consequently, had no access to reading. Of course, during the Reformation, many capitalized on this sentiment and claimed that the Church had deprived the People of God of the privilege of reading (due to language and availability) and meditating on the loftiest and most profound theology. Naturally, since I am bringing it up, they would be exaggerating or at least limited in their viewpoint.

We think that words are the only way to read but the Church has never been so narrow-minded. Recognizing the lack of education among her children, she developed a different forms of reading. One of those forms is through architecture. Instead of relying sole on words in books, she wrote and taught through architecture.

Don’t know how to read architecture? Sounds like a little modern illiteracy to me. No worries, it took me a while until I found the “write” resources to teach me to read.  I am still reading at the Dr. Seuss level but it is still fries my brain with so much information I cannot handle more. Here is a short tutorial on reading Gothic Cathedral facades. Enjoy and read these books more!!

News Media and Cardinal-designates

The Washington Post just does not get it. Yesterday, Archbishop Wuerl made the front page in an article entitled, D.C.’s Wuerl among 24 new cardinals named by Pope Benedict. I know I should not be surprised. Call me crazy, I thought that might learn by now.

After several niceties, the article then speculates on two “hot topics” that just bug me. The first topic it recycles is the controversy last year concerning the closing of the 80-year Catholic Charities Foster Child program in his Archdiocese. His reason? The District of Columbia’s City Council opened up adoptions for same-sex marriage/partners. Now, I am a little dismayed at the Councils surprise when he did this -then and now. It is not like Church had to discuss this. Neither our Lord nor His Church’s Magisterium has changed in 2,000 years. Hint: It is not going to in the future either.

The second topic – politics. Why must everything be political? Don’t get me wrong! I am well-aware of the fact that the selection of the Cardinal-designates shape the next conclave and thus the election of Pope Benedict XVI’s successor. But a Cardinal is not a  politician but someone who is an elite adviser to the Holy Father in current issues. They are also leaders in catechetics and Archbishop Wuerl is the consummate Catechist. if you really want to get technical and historical, cardinals wear red because they were the ones red to take the bullet for the Pope. That’s right, you were elevated to be the first slain. Imagine that, Rome chose your clerical colors based on the ancient tradition of your service.

There seemed also to be a comparison between Archbishop Burke and Wuerl in the article as if the Holy Father was attempting to “balance” theologies when it comes to reception of the Eucharist by pro-abortion politicians. Sorry, doesn’t work that way. While a very important topic, one where Archbishop Wuerl finds himself at odds with Archbishop Burke and Pope Benedict, in theory, Archbishop Wuerl is right. When asked last year by reports he said,

he cannot deny the sacrament to a willing participant, because he cannot know what is inside a person’s heart when he or she shares private worship with God.

While I disagree with the Archbishop, he is the Archbishop. Episcopal colleges tend to take care of their own. Just a point of clarification. As the Church has always taught, we are embodied spirits. Our bodies give expression to who we are. Our intentions are manifested by our actions or lack thereof.  To say that one’s heart or beliefs are at odds with our actions is to say we lack integrity. Or, in colloquial terms, we are lying. Not only to others but most grievously (outside the offense towards God) ourselves. St. James is clear:

A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. (James 1:8)

For the moment though, let’s rejoice in the selection of Archbishops Burke and Wuerl. There will be plenty of time for us to “eat our own.” Both have much to offer the global Church and their commitment to truth, liturgy and pastoral ministry will serve us all well in the next conclave. Congrats Cardinal-designates!

How Do They Relate: Documents of Vatican II

The Second Vatican Council is arguably the most significant Ecumenical Council in the past two hundred years (Yes, that means there has been more than one). Just for the sake of review, the First Vatican Council was convened by Pope Pius IX on June 29, 1868 and opened on December 8, 1869. The council is best known for its dogmatic definition on Papal infallibility and was indefinitely suspended on October 20, 1870 by Pope Pius IX due to the Franco-Prussian War (The Kingdom of Italy captured and annexed the Papal States).

Of course, the Church had to wait for Blessed Pope John XXIII to convene and open the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962. This Ecumenical Council was different than all previous councils in that it did not define or restate any dogmatic statements. The Second Vatican Council (or Vatican II) is most notably remembered for:

  • Expanding the use of the vernacular within the Sacred Liturgy
  • Establishing the Word of God’s place and role in the Church
  • Reflecting internally on her relation to her children
  • Reflecting externally on her relation to the external world
  • Expanding its communication in Ecumenical circles

The numerous documents that Vatican II produced has at times been used as weapons. Many act in accordance with the “spirit” of the Council which usually means that they are implementing what the Council “meant” even though they have never read the documents. The result, over forty years of nonsense and liturgical deviance that is only now beginning to self-correct.

I came across a graphic recently that helped me understand the internal logic of how the documents and the various themes relate to one another. While not perfect, I have not seen its match. Having read and studied the majority of the documents over the past twenty-years, I more and more appreciate the beauty and wisdom the Council Fathers were trying to implement. In the back of their minds lingered World War II and in the forefront of their minds was the changing needs of the twentieth century. With the birth and convergence of Dialectical Materialism and Modernism in the nineteenth century, the Council Fathers needed a renewed vision to provide the foundation for a new evangelism in the early twenty-first century. And so, through many years of deliberation, they promulgated 4 Constitutions, 9 Decrees and 3 Declarations.  What is the difference in order of importance? Great question:

  • Constitution -the most solemn form of a document issued by the Pope or a Council. It relates to important matters, e.g. changing the “matter & form” of a sacrament, major changes in universal law, etc. and makes new law which changes or abrogates existing law.
  • Decree – is the most important legislative act a Curia can make. It requires the authorization of the Holy Father to make a change in Curial law.
  • Declaration – typically is an interpretation of an existing law and it cannot make new law. Declarations may be general, for the whole Church or particular, for a particular person or church.

The following is a graphic provided by the Vatican II – Voice of the Church Web site. It helps organize the documents to know how they relate to each other. You might base your choice on what documents to read by relation rather than chronology. My only other encouragement is to actually read the documents (and those that helped explain them after the council) and not take the word of anyone acting in the “spirit of Vatican II”. Happy studying!

This diagram cannot easily be bettered, although a truer concept of the interlinking of themes and teachings might be a ‘network’. An important feature of the circular diagram is the clear presentation of the four ‘core’ documents, as the foundation for the rest. This diagram was first published in The Sower Vol 23 No 1, January 2002 and is reproduced with their kind permission.

To read the Vatican II documents, go to the official Vatican site.

Vocation of Christians in America: Abp Chaput

To celebrate the Lord’s Day here is a fantastic video on Faith and Reason at Houston Baptist University (HBU). They hosted Archbishop Chaput and he agreed to take their questions. Learned something new – he is the first Amer-Indian Bishop in the United States.

Revised Roman Missal: Bishop Loverde Calls for Deeper Prayer

In this week’s Catholic Herald, Bishop Loverde (Arlington Diocese, Virginia) invited his flock to embrace the upcoming implementation of the Revised Roman Missal. Bishop Loverde also invited us hear the call to deeper prayer through revised language of the Liturgy. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross best described the catechetical value of the Divine Liturgy when she said,

God Himself teaches us to go forward with our hand in His by means of the Church’s liturgy.

The Lord and the Church desires the Divine Liturgy to be the first and primary didactic means of educating her children. Bishop Loverde’s reflection is well said and deserves additional time for reflection.

The new translation — A call to deeper prayer

Some of you may recall, as I do, learning certain tenets of our faith from the Baltimore Catechism. The concise, memorable question-and-answer format assisted me as a boy in learning theological truths upon which I still reflect today. In light of the announcement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that, after years of work, the new translation of the Roman Missal will be implemented in Advent 2011, the Catechism question “What is Prayer?” particularly resounds with me. The response, “Prayer is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God,” highlights the opportunity for spiritual growth that the new translation will afford each of us (Baltimore Catechism, no. 1099).

This new translation of the Mass is the result of years of labor by skilled translators and the national conferences of bishops in English-speaking nations. The result is a translation of the Mass that will contribute to the ongoing renewal of sacred liturgy in our parishes and is a more accurate translation of the official Latin edition of the Roman Missal, first promulgated in 1970, updated again in 1975 and published in its third edition in 2000. Our Holy Father prayed that the new translation would be “a springboard for a renewal and a deepening of Eucharistic devotion all over the English-speaking world” (Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Vox Clara Committee, 28 April 2010). Yes, this translation means more than merely learning new responses to say during Mass, although the words have a particular purpose and are important. It is, ultimately, a call to strengthen our prayer to God during the liturgy and to more actively and authentically participate: to truly “lift our minds and hearts to God.”

It is my prayer that each of us will take time to reflect upon the changes being made and the true meaning of the words that the priest and the congregation pray at Mass. Consider, for example, the occasions in the Mass when the celebrant says, “The Lord be with you.” Instead of, “And also with you,” under the new translation the congregation will reply, “And with your spirit.” Far from being a reduction in meaning, this response, which is more true to the official Latin text from which all translations have been made, increases our understanding that we are asking the Lord to dwell in the souls of those gathered for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In addition, since the priest (or deacon before the proclamation of the Gospel) greets the faithful with the words, “The Lord be with you,” the response, “And with your spirit” serves to mark those moments of truly priestly (or diaconal) ministry, that is, when the priest (or deacon) is about to do what he is ordained to do. These moments include: presiding over the entire prayer of the community at the beginning of the Mass; proclaiming God’s holy Word in His Gospel; offering the Eucharistic Prayer, which begins with the Preface; and imparting the final blessing. Our new response indicates that the priest (or deacon) is not acting on his own but only in the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

The new translation of the Roman Missal will also include Masses for recently canonized saints, additional prefaces for the Eucharistic Prayers, other Masses for Various Needs and Intentions, and updated and revised rubrics (instructions) for celebrating the Mass. The richness of these seemingly subtle changes not only brings our prayer closer in line with our brothers and sisters who speak other languages, but also invites us to enter more fully into the mystery of the Mass.

Our participation in the liturgy is an essential part of our worship. Discussing the Mass, Pope Pius X taught that “the faithful assemble for no other object than that of acquiring this spirit from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church” (Pope Pius X, Tra le Sollecitudini, 22 November 1903). This liturgical theme was further developed by the Servant of God, Pope Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council when he wrote that the “Church consists in the full active participation of all God’s holy people in these liturgical celebrations, especially in the same eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which there presides the bishop surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers” (Pope Paul VI, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963, no. 41). The new translation provides us with the opportunity, once again, to participate in the Mass in a deeper way.

In the upcoming year, you will learn more details on the new translation and be given the grace-filled opportunity to deepen your life of prayer during the liturgy through additional catechesis. Resources will be made available to you through our website,; diocesan workshops will be offered to priests and musicians; and parishioners will have the opportunity to delve more deeply into the meaning of this new translation through programs at their parishes. I encourage you to take advantage of the resources and opportunities that will be available this year — they will be advertised on the website, via Facebook and Twitter, in your parish bulletin and also in the Arlington Catholic Herald.

In the next year, in our diocesan Church and throughout English-speaking nations, we will prepare for the implementation of the new translation. During this time of fruitful transition, I ask you to dedicate yourself to active participation in the celebration of the Mass. As this new translation so beautifully emphasizes, Our Lord Jesus Christ died so that we may have life, a mystery which we celebrate at each and every Liturgy. He sacrificed Himself for us; let our response be one of prayerful participation in the celebration of the Eucharist, which He instituted

Good Medicine

Tough Love

A question that arose the other day was why the Church, which is suppose to be loving like her Bridegroom, could ever consider excommunicating someone. There unfortunately, is a lot of misunderstanding on the subject.

The Church only censures an individual(s) following a defined period of discussion at which time the individual(s) prove themselves to be obstinate in their sin. Censures are medicinal, meaning, the idea of separation becomes so heartbreaking that it leads to repentance. Sometimes it is medicinal for the community in the case of public figures or events/places that could compromise the faith. In an effort to prevent the spread of the error, the Church censures the official/event/place so that Catholics understand that the decision or beliefs must not be followed.

There are basically three types of censures. Each are surrounded by technicalities and can be in different forms:

Interdict (on a place or its inhabitants)

Withholds certain privileges from the faithful who remain, nevertheless, in communion with the Church. Examples of privileges withheld by interdict are attendance at liturgical services, Christian burial, some of the sacraments. The bishop of LaCrosse, WI , imposed an interdict in 1975 on those who followed the false apparitions at Necedah.

Excommunication (anathema if formal)

Affects generally one’s ability to receive the sacraments, notably Eucharist; it pertains to one’s relationship to the communion of the faithful and depends on such factors as public obstinacy. It may be remitted by the Pope, Bishop or in certain cases, even by a priest confessor.


The most severe form of excommunication: public by name, by the Holy See; literally, “to be avoided” – shunned (“except in the case of husband and wife, parents, children…”). A remedial measure reflecting Paul’s mandates to the early Christian community (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15).

Cultural Relevance

Abortion and Excommunication

“A person who actually procures an abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication.” So says the Code of Canon Law, practically repeating the former 1917 code. This excommunication can be remitted by the local Bishop. (Confessors have been delegated by many Bishops to absolve from this penalty – at least in the care of a first abortion.) This penalty:

  1. Includes accomplices without whom abortion would not have happened (i.e., drivers, individual(s) who knowingly provide money for the procedure, etc.).
  2. Presumes other requirements of the law are present:
  • The abortion was intended and successful.
  • There is knowledge of this penalty attached to the law.
  • The individual is of majority age (at least eighteen).
  • The person has the full use of reason.
  • There is full consent (one is not acting out of fear).

Catholic Hierarchy: The Patriarch

Many Roman or Latin Rite Catholics do not know what a Patriarch is. Literally, it means “Prince of Fathers”. They are the highest rulers in their Churches with only the Pope having authority over them. Since the Eastern Schism in 1054,  their importance, except for that of the Pope, has greatly diminished. They are without jurisdiction except in virtue of some particular law.

On March 2, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI dropped the traditional title of Patriarch of the West. His hope in doing so is ,

to eliminate one possible obstacle to ecumenical progress with the Orthodox world, the Holy Father has renounced the title “Patriarch of the West.” (Source)

The Holy Father is now identified by the Annuario as:

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman province, Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God.

In the order of precedence:

  1. Patriarch
  2. Primate
  3. Metropolitan
  4. Bishop

In oder of dignity, the Patriarch of Rome precedes the following Rites:

  1. Armenian
  2. Maronite
  3. Melkite
  4. Chaldean

The minor Patriarchs include:

  1. Venice
  2. Lisbon
  3. West Indies
  4. East Indies

The rights and roles of the Patriarch include:

  1. Ordain all bishops of their patriarchate.
  2. Consecrate the holy chrism.
  3. Summon synods.
  4. Send the omophorion (pallium) to their Metropolitans.
  5. Hear appeals from lower courts.

Here is a jurisdictional map of the various Patrichates circa 451.