Monday, April 30, 2012

Marital Chastity, Fruitful Multiplication...and NFP?

Now that the HHS contraception mandate has brought the contraception issue into focus for Catholics, it’s time to hone in on what’s necessary for a renewal of sexual morality and marital chastity and fruitful multiplication…don’t you think?

Consider this quote from the preface to The Case Concerning Catholic Contraception, where author Michael Malone stated:

When Pope Paul VI lamented toward the end of his pontificate that “the smoke of Satan has entered the sanctuary”, what man among us could disagree? And since the Church is based on the fundamental structure of the family, it is in relation to the sanctuary of the home itself that such diabolical disorientation has done the most serious damage.

I think there are good reasons for checking our morality meter on this subject.

Note: I am addressing only the use of periodic continence for “spacing births”, not the use of NFP or NaPro for achieving pregnancy.

That said…let’s start with this:

There have been statistics thrown around about the percentage of Catholic women who use some form of artificial birth control. There are also figures thrown around as estimates of the percentage of Catholic couples using NFP (whether for achieving or avoiding pregnancy).


The stunningly obvious fact is that Catholic families – which have been historically large – are now about the same size as the families of the general population.

I would venture to guess that this reduction in average family size for Catholics has come about because of an almost overpowering contraceptive mentality in our society which has resulted in many Catholics using artificial contraception and sterilization, against the teachings of the Church.

But why did good Catholics start going against the teachings of the Church on contraception? I suspect we can pin the blame on a very vocal group of dissident theologians and others who voiced immediate disagreement, disappointment, and resentment when they learned that Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae, had decreed that artificial contraception was still immoral and forbidden. This frontal attack by dissidents led to a weakening of that teaching. And that led to many Catholics using artificial contraception. NFP, I think, eventually emerged as a response to the fact that so many Catholics were illicitly and immorally contracepting right along with their non-Catholic peers.

So let’s consider the evolution of the Church’s teaching on the duty to procreate, the use of periodic continence to limit/space births, and the use of NFP.

In 1930, Pope Pius XI published his encyclical, Casti Connubii, which was essentially a response to the Lambeth Conference’s approval of the use of birth control.  Casti Connubii stood by the primarily procreative end of marriage, but acknowledged that:

…there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider…

Still, there was the ever-present caveat:

…so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.

In 1951, Pope Pius XII’s addressed Italian midwives in his Allocution to Midwives; Fr. William Gardner, in his excellent article Purity Honors Creativeness, notes that this document

…seems to be the first papal document that sanctions (albeit conditionally) the use of periodic continence…Pius XII affirmed that married couples have a positive duty to provide children for the propagation of the human race, a responsibility owed to the  State, to the Church, and to God Himself. However, the Pope also concluded that couples may have recourse to periodic continence in order to avoid conception provided that there exist “sufficient and secure moral grounds” and that “no artificial means are used to hinder the procreation of new life.” (my emphases)

Fr. Gardner also mentions that the Allocution reaffirms that procreation is the primary end of marriage, and that the “unitive” end is subordinated to it. In addition,

…[The Pope] further notes that  all the personal, intellectual, and spiritual enrichment that derive from conjugal life has ultimately been placed by the will of the Creator at the service of posterity.

In 1968, Pope Paul VI promulgated Humanae Vitae, which again affirmed that periodic continence may be permitted for serious reasons, though the language seems a bit more liberal here:

If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles…  (HV, 16)

But this document also reiterates that the primary end of marriage is procreation in fairly strong language:

…[Parents] are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out. (HV, 10)

It seems to me that within these documents, there is a progressive movement toward more permissive language related to periodic continence. Still, each document reaffirms that abstaining from sexual relations during the woman’s fertile times should be for “serious reasons”, and that the primary reason for marriage is procreative.

Now, it also seems to me that there has been a progressive movement amongst the faithful toward focusing more on the fact that periodic continence is licit, and less on the idea of “serious reasons” (which they say should surely be left up to the couple and their pastor to determine), and even less on the procreative end of marriage and the duty to have a “generous” number of children.

The other sad...
The Church seems to have acquiesced to society’s contraceptive mentality, in order to take a pastoral approach that acknowledged the pressures of modern secular society on Catholics; these pressures have been economic, sociological, and psychological. The “women’s movement” worked hard to convince women that they needed more than motherhood to be “fulfilled”; divorce laws were relaxed (leading some to warn women to have a fall-back career option in case their husbands divorced them);, and the “overpopulation” myth also pressured against large families.

Somehow, I am reminded of the answer Jesus gave to the Pharisees about why Moses allowed husbands to divorce their wives, but Jesus forbade it: “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8). In a similar way, it seems that our Holy Fathers began to allow periodic continence as a means of limiting births because of the “hardness of heart” that was coming over the Catholic faithful as they turned toward “modern” values at the expense of their large numbers of children.

In Purity Honors Creativeness, Fr. Gardner observes (my emphases):

To attach subjective requirements for the permissible use of periodic continence also seems to validate the point that this is a matter of Church discipline, a matter of positive law, rather than something built into the nature of the act of sexual intercourse. Furthermore, since this is a matter of Church discipline, it is conceivable that the permission (or dispensation) could be reversed.

Should the permission be reversed? Well, let’s ask ourselves this: What are the “fruits” of this development of a view of periodic continence being permissible for “serious reasons”? We are not seeing an increase in the birthrate among Catholics, are we?!

By the way, I do recognize that some couples struggle with infertility or other issues that may be kept private, and that a small family cannot be taken as an indication of whether or how a couple is contracepting. So stick with me; hear me out.

I think that it is quite likely that many Catholic couples who, in the last 50 years or so, turned to the use of artificial contraception, used the relatively new permission for periodic continence as an excuse for their behavior. After all, they may have reasoned, if the Church allows periodic continence to be used for avoiding pregnancy, what’s wrong with going with something a little more “convenient”? I have had more than one woman, open to using NFP, ask me, “So how is that really different from artificial contraception?” (There is a difference, but it is telling that the unbiased newcomers to the idea seem to recognize a similar line of contraceptive thinking in both.)

What I’m getting at is this: even if periodic continence is licit (and it is, in some circumstances), it keeps getting liberalized in response to pressure from the secular world – to the point that it is becoming institutionalized as NFP. The concept of conscience has become weakened by the moral relativist climate of our society, and I think that blinds people to the contraceptive mindset around NFP.

And that’s why I think we need to talk about NFP. We need to investigate whether periodic continence has turned the critical question from discernment of whether to AVOID pregnancy to one of whether to ACCEPT pregnancy. There’s a big difference. The first, I think, emphasizes God's will, the second emphasizes our own.

Fr. Gardner makes a distinction between behavior that is licit versus behavior that is virtuous. Periodic continence, he says, is licit, but not virtuous.

I ask those who defend and promote NFP: are you willing to truly examine that difference (between licit and virtuous), and to consider whether we should be helping couples move toward virtuous behavior, or simply licit behavior? Are you willing to truly examine whether “family planning” should be on human terms, or whether it should be more “providential”? 

If yes, then let’s discuss this as mature adults. 

On Clarifying the Licit Use of NFP
What's Wrong with NFP?
Abuses of NFP and the Duty of Motherhood

Comments are welcome, but please attach a name somewhere, and please do not resort to name-calling. If you want a private conversation, feel free to email me at


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Good Shepherd Sunday: Cute Trumps All

While the rector of the Cathedral is away on vacation, a substitute priest - who is retired, and recently celebrated the 50th anniversary his priestly ordination - has been taking over the pastoral duties.

This Sunday, of course, is "Good Shepherd" Sunday in the new liturgical calendar. And Father decided to use a "prop" (his word) to illustrate something about Jesus the Good Shepherd.

So, he brought in a lamb named Curly-Jo to Mass. He had the lamb's owner bring the lamb forward when he began his homily.

He held the lamb and talked about the Passover story from the Old Testament. And he talked a little bit about Jesus being the good shepherd and all...

And then he carried the lamb down the center aisle so that the children could pet it. Adults could do the same, he said, since "we are all children at heart." And he noted that this was such a good thing to do for the children because "they'll always remember this". 


Was it cute? You betcha. And as we all know, cute trumps all in the Novus Ordo. Yep, cute trumps all.

But the church is not a stable. Mass is not a circus. The Cathedral does not shouldn't run a petting zoo.

Thanks be to God we did not have the children's choir at this Mass (Saturday evening); they surely would have sung "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and we'd have heard all about how that song is really about Jesus and His Mother, and so it's entirely appropriate to sing it at Mass.

Our daughter, who went to the Sunday morning Mass, reports that Father decided that he would "take a chance" and set the lamb down to see if it would follow him. It didn't. Apparently, it does not know his voice.

She also reports that another parishioner rolled his eyes and muttered, "We have three more weeks of this." Another parishioner I know has made arrangements to go to Mass elsewhere for the time Father will be subbing (he's been here before; people know what to expect).

And the clincher: our daughter was so irritated with the liturgical shenanigans that now she feels that she needs to go to confession. That's not how Mass should affect us.

Really, I think it's time for the NO Mass to be outgrown.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Your Body is the Temple of the Holy Ghost

Today, April 28, is the Anniversary of the Dedication of St. Francis de Sales Cathedral in the Diocese of Baker (more or less…see this post for a full explanation of the confusion around the date!).

I particularly liked this reading from the office of Matins for the Common of the Dedication of a Church, comparing the building up of a church building with the building up of our own souls as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. I’ll just let St. Augustine speak for himself:

A Sermon of St. Augustine, Bishop

Dearly beloved brethren, when we keep the Dedication Feast of some altar or church, we do well to ponder with attention and devotion certain things connected with them, namely, how the workmen toiled to build them and by what means the Church doth consecrate them. And if thereby we are moved to live a more godly and righteous life, what we have seen done in these temples made with hands, will also in some wise be done in the upbuilding of our own souls. He lied not who said : The temple of God is holy ; which temple are ye. And again: Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you? And therefore, dearly beloved brethren, since by the grace of God, and without any antecedent merits of our own, we have been made meet to become the temple of God, let us work as hard as we can, with his help, that our Lord may not find in his temple (that is, in us) anything to offend the eyes of his Majesty.

Let the tabernacle of our heart be swept clean of sin and adorned with goodness. Let it be locked to the devil, and thrown open to Christ. Yea, let us so work, that we may be able to open the door of the kingdom of heaven with the key of good works. For even as evil works are so many bolts and bars to close against us the entrance into life, so beyond doubt are good works the key thereto. And therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let each one look into his own conscience, and when he findeth any defilement there, let him first strive by prayers, fasting, and almsdeeds to cleanse his conscience, and so let him venture to receive the Eucharist.

For, if he acknowledge his iniquity (meanwhile holding himself back from the altar of God), he will quickly obtain pardon from the mercy of God. For he that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. Therefore, as I have said, if he acknowledge his iniquity, meanwhile humbly holding himself back from the altar of the Church till he have mended his life, he need have no fear that he will be excommunicate from the eternal marriage-supper in heaven.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Confusing the Faithful on Homosexual Unions

This week, two hard-hitting episodes of “The Vortex” addressed blunders of some members of the Church hierarchy in their public statements on the issue of homosexuality. Both episodes are embedded below; here’s a summary and some excerpts:

In the April 25th episode of “The Vortex”, Michael Voris recounts a recent scandal involving Cardinal Pell:

…First, in a televised debate on Australia’s leading national TV network, right in the middle of prime time a couple of weeks ago, Sydney’s Cardinal Pell was debating arguably the world’s most high profile atheist and biologist Richard Dawkins.

…Cardinal Pell stunned the Catholic world here by saying that homosexual civil unions were acceptable.

…He began with a good defense of the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of marriage but then seemed to be clearly heading down the road of saying “BUT CIVIL UNIONS ARE WELL AND GOOD”.

Voris points out that the Cardinal had been cut off by the moderator, and was unable to complete his thoughts; still,  

…to date, there has not been any sort of clarification from the Cardinal’s office of what he meant or even any recognition that what he said may have easily been misconstrued to mean something other than what the Church teaches.

The Church has been quite clear that whether the legal issue is so-called marriage OR civil unions, the MORAL issue remains the same. Homosexual acts can never be approved of as a good thing. And therefore any accommodation for them in law, be it marriage or civil unions, is evil.

Voris points out another instance of scandal:

Again, here in Australia, Bishop Anthony Fisher of Parramatta just this past month published an article written by the former general master of the Dominicans – a well-known dissident – supporting homosexual civil unions. The bishop sent this article in his personal newsletter to his clergy, causing a shockwave in his diocese among the faithful he came to learn of it.

The letter itself extols marriage, “sexual difference and its potential fertility”, and does mention that homosexual marriage “is impossible”. But then the author adds this statement (my emphasis):

This is not to denigrate committed love of people of the same sex. This too should be cherished and supported, which is why church leaders are slowly coming to support same sex civil unions. The God of love can be present in every true love.

In addition, Michael Voris mentions Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ recent statement (and subsequent back-pedaling) which also endorsed homosexual “unions” as a matter of law, and Cardinal Archbishop of Milan Carlo Martini’s book which contains statements opposing the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. These are not trivial errors, and as Voris says,

…[O]ne has to wonder: with big name bishops and archbishops and cardinals around the world being so vague, ambiguous, and apparently double-speaking on the issue, what the heck is going on.

There appears to be an open disobedience on the part of members of the hierarchy towards what is crystal clear teaching that is established and restated by the magisterium. This is causing no end of upset and pain for the faithful. It calls into doubt in their minds the truths of the faith. If they are told to obey this and obey that – but members of the hierarchy are free to not only doubt or disagree with the Church’s teachings, but moreover, disagree or use squishy language in such an open and public fashion like Prime Time TV shows, authoring books, and issuing statements and reprinting articles – the faithful rightfully wonder, where does that leave them.

…It’s discouraging enough trying to evangelize the world, but when the efforts are submarined by leaders, it doesn’t exactly paint a picture of a glorious renewal of the faith anytime soon. Why Church leaders don’t seem to understand this is a great source of pain and confusion on the part of the sheep.

[See the 2003 Vatican document on legalization of homosexual unions here.]

In the second “Vortex” on homosexuality (April 26), Voris stands in front of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, where, he tells us

St. Joseph's Church, Sydney
Since 1972 every Friday night at 8pm, a Mass has been going on here celebrating not the sacrifice and re-presentation of Our Blessed Lord to the Father for the redemption of the world and the forgiveness of sins, but rather, the celebration of homosexuality.

Forty years. Forty long and miserable years; untouched, unchallenged, permitted…

It is popularly known by those who would have a concern that these “masses” are held each week. And that includes the Archdiocese of Sydney. The masses are said by a mix of priests from both the archdiocese as well as a smattering of various religious orders, most prominent of which is Missionaries of the Sacred Heart…

…[T]his blasphemy has been allowed to continue for so long, that an entire culture has grown up here: a “gay” Catholic culture. The New Town Gay Catholics promote a Gay Rosary, riddled with homosexual “mysteries”.

Among their mysteries: a celebration of what they say are the gay partnerships of King David and Jonathon; Ruth and Naomi; and most disgusting and offensive of all, Our Lord and Lazarus. There is also a decade dedicated to meditating on the blessings of being homosexual as shown in the gospel account of Our Blessed Lord encountering the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus.

After describing such atrocities in several different countries, and noting that the US has its own share of this kind of blasphemy, Michael Voris notes:

As one blogger recently put it, there is no way the Church can expect to be taken legitimately in its teachings, as long as its leaders allow this kind of activity to continue.

Two things that faithful Catholics can do about these sorts of scandals: first, make reparation by offering sacrifice for the sins of others. Remember that the supreme maxim of Christianity is that the innocent pay for the guilty.

The second thing we can do is spread the news of a fantastic group called COURAGE, an approved apostolate for Catholics who struggle with same sex attraction…

And make sure we continue to pray for our leaders.

Yes. By all means: pray.

Vortex: April 25, Civil Union Confusion

Vortex: April 26, Old Sins in New Town

Thursday, April 26, 2012

On Clarifying the Licit Use of NFP

Because of the big brouhaha over the contraception mandate, there’s been a lot of news commentary the last few weeks on the subject of NFP (Natural Family Planning).

Prior to February 14, I would have applauded the coverage, agreed with it, promoted NFP in a few blog posts, and felt really good about the whole thing. I learned about NFP after I became Catholic, and by that time, I’d had myself sterilized, and was approaching the end of my child-bearing years anyway. What I read of NFP sounded very good for the relationship of spouses, and appeared to be “acceptable” to the mind of the Church. I regretted never having had the chance to use it in my marriage.

But that was then, and this is now, and my views on NFP have changed radically.

On February 14, I received an email from a friend with a link to a homily on “The Duty of Motherhood” (which I have since transcribed and posted here). The message said:

I don't know if NFP has risen to the level of "hot button" for you, yet, but some day it will. Theology of the Body and Natural Family Planning will, one day, be viewed from their rightful home in the trash bin of theological fads that did great harm to the Church and Her faithful.

Just ask yourself: "Can I picture Our Blessed Mother teaching young Jewish maidens to 'chart' so as to avoid conceiving a child (or "charting" AT ALL!) and can I hear TOB language coming from her mouth?" BOTH invite embarrassing forays into immodesty and impurity. The questions answer themselves, providing "insight" into what a pandering to our hyper-sexualized culture this has really been (under the guise of "spirituality" and "responsible parenthood").

I admit, I was a bit taken aback. I didn’t know there was something wrong with NFP! I did some thinking and some reading.

And I think NFP is…well…very much misused and misrepresented. And I suspect it is largely practiced from a contraceptive mindset, even by faithful Catholic couples who perhaps have not fully investigated their own motives or fears.

NFP is painted in glowing terms by its supporters: it strengthens marriage, it encourages “communication” between husband and wife, it’s correlated with a lower divorce rate, and it’s “healthy”. These claims may be true, but if NFP is being used for the wrong reasons, then these wonderful outcomes are not justified. It is not permissible to do evil that good may come of it.
NFP is also very often presented as “acceptable to the Church”. This is implied when parish marriage prep classes insist on the couple learning about NFP. Linking NFP so closely to marriage preparation sends a contraceptive message, I believe. Yes, I know that NFP can be used quite successfully to achieve pregnancy, but I’ll bet dollars to donuts that the vast majority of couples who put it into use do so in order to “space births” within their family. The message they’ve received is that it is fine and dandy to choose a family size and limit the number of children to be born based on perceived financial ability to support them, stress on the parents, medical concerns, and a variety of other reasons.

That does not speak of a great trust in God, does it? What about Divine Providence? Is God not capable of taking care of the problems we as human parents cannot?

An article from Catholic News Agency quotes Dr. Janet E. Smith on the subject of NFP. I’ve listened to Dr. Smith’s talk “Contraception: Why Not?” and found it very informative; however, I have come to disagree with her take on the validity of using NFP for the end of spacing births and limiting family size. According to the CNA article,

Smith told CNA on April 18 that Natural Family Planning (NFP) is not an obligation to “live without planning,” but a call to use reason while respecting the nature of human sexuality.

Supported by the Catholic Church, NFP is a method of spacing children by practicing periodic abstinence based on physical indicators of a woman’s fertility.

I think that it is a misrepresentation to say that NFP is “supported by the Catholic Church”. I think “tolerated” is a more accurate descriptor, if we want to be perfectly honest about what the Church teaches.

As I mentioned in a previous post, NFP or periodic continence can only lawfully be practiced without sin for serious reasons or "just causes", according to Pope Pius XII in his “Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives" from 1951. [Fr. Ryan Erlenbush makes the point that these terms are often misstated by NFP opponents as “grave” reasons, and that in Humanae Vitae, the term used is the Latin phrase “justae causae”, or “just cause”.] Pope Pius XII mentioned and described “medical, eugenic, economic, and social” reasons for periodic continence. Pope Paul VI said that periodic continence could be justified if there are “well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances” (HV, 16).

In the CNA article, Dr. Smith is noted to have said that

Despite the cultural assumption that Catholics are required to ceaselessly procreate, Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” clarified that there are “serious reasons” for which a couple may seek to avoid conception “for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.”

The spectrum of these reasons “is broader and perhaps more liberal than many think,” said Smith.

I think there is great danger in that kind of counseling, and I think that what passes for “serious reason” can vary depending on the trends of the times – because our human perception of “serious” is certainly conditioned by the circumstances in which we live.

She noted that the Church calls married couples to use prudence in examining their physical, psychological, and financial conditions as well as other factors when looking at the future of their families.

Couples should not be selfish in their decision, and they are called to look “beyond their own comfort and convenience,” but they can morally use NFP to prevent conception for a variety of reasons beyond mere health concerns, she said.

But Humanae Vitae makes mention several times of  the importance of seeking God’s will, not our own, in matters of limiting family size. For instance:

[Parents] are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out. (HV, 10)

And here:

The Church is the first to praise and commend the application of human intelligence to an activity in which a rational creature such as man is so closely associated with his Creator. But she affirms that this must be done within the limits of the order of reality established by God. (HV, 16)

I will pause here, and call this “Part I” of a series on NFP. I think there is much to be discussed, and that it should be discussed by the well-meaning, faithful Catholics on both sides of the NFP issue. 

For now, I’ll leave you with this thought, a comment on the last post by Fr. William Gardner:
The truly Catholic alternative to contraceptive drugs, devices, surgeries is babies! All those with a priestly heart should pray for greater generosity among married couples in welcoming souls to "come to the threshold of life."

I hope to examine some of Fr. Gardner’s thoughts as reflected in his articles on the subject…next time.

Update: See Marital Chastity, Fruitful Multiplication...and NFP?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Person's a Person...

I’m engaged in a conversation of sorts with someone who doesn’t share my views at all! I figured I might as well take some time to figure out what the “liberal” mind thinks, and this person seems to think rather than react

It may end up being a kind of "Occupy" meets "pro-life" moment, but I'll give it a shot. 

Anyway...this individual told me that he did have some thoughts on absolute rights and wrongs, and listed these:

I believe it's wrong to put one's desires over someone else's needs. I believe it's wrong to treat others in a way that you don't want to be treated. I believe it's wrong to coerce others; though coercion itself is tricky -- for example it is okay to restrain someone (a coercion) to prevent them hurting or killing someone else (which is itself a coercion). I believe it is wrong to cause harm or destroy. I believe it's wrong to be dishonest.

Those sound like things I can agree with, but they are a bit nebulous; so I asked him how his thoughts play out on specific issues, such as abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. About abortion he said (my emphasis):

While it has human DNA, in my view it is a human fetus, not a human person, and no more deserving of individual consideration than any other collection of human cells. As the fetus develops it becomes more capable of feeling and living on its own, and becomes more deserving of individual consideration. By the time it can survive on its own outside the womb it seems like it's become enough of a human being in its own right to warrant protection. Exactly when that point is seems like a good point for debate, and as technology for keeping fetuses alive improves that point may move closer to conception.


Even on an intuitive level, it seems difficult to determine when a person becomes a person. Dr. Seuss had it right, I think:
The videos below highlight the continuity of human development. The first was mentioned on LifeSiteNews, and is a simulation of prenatal development from conception to birth. The first few minutes are a discussion of the technology, then you see the actual video. I particularly like the way he was able to portray the birth of a baby using both “real” footage and visualization imagery.

The second video is an incredible condensation of the development of a little girl from birth to age 12 years. (H/T The Deacon’s Bench blog)

Watch...and think about it: is the question "when does the fetus become a person?" or is it "When was this person not a person?"

Lotte Time Lapse: Birth to 12 years in 2 min. 45. from Frans Hofmeester on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Happened to "Singing the Mass"?

Wendi at Cradle Stories recently had this to say about a trip her family made to the Cathedral of their diocese (my emphases):

So we took the opportunity to go to Mass at the Cathedral. It's the first time we've done so since moving to this diocese.

Mass was...interesting. The music was ok, but actually a little disappointing.

What they did sing was beautiful, although the choir was sometimes overpowered by the organ.

I just expected them to sing...more. It was the 11:00 Mass. It was the know the Bishop's home parish.

So I expected that all the first degree stuff would be wasn't.

As I said, a little disappointing.

I thought the whole point of being the Bishop was leading by example. then follows that his home parish should do that too...right?

I could have gone to the same Mass in any Suburban parish and it would have been pretty much the same.

Ah did give me a greater appreciation for what I have at home.

I admit I do not have the opportunity (or inclination) to travel far and wide – even in my own diocese – to see whether the new translation of the Roman Missal has resulted in an improvement in the music, and whether or not priests are singing their parts of the Mass. But I suspect that what a correspondent wrote to me is true:

…[There has been a] consummate failure from the top down to properly implement the new English translation of the Missale Romanum. The Church clearly intends that the Mass (yes, the Novus Ordo Missae) be sung: that's patently obvious from the profusion of chant settings for the Order of Mass – something unprecedented in comparison to the edition that's been in use in the US now since the seventies.
The new missal provides either the chant or the chant formulae for singing the entire Mass - Propers, Ordinary, and Order of Mass. There's no excuse now to NOT sing the Mass.

Prior to the implementation of the new translation, the USCCB’s website promotion of the changes stated (my emphases):

[The Church] has been blessed with this opportunity to deepen its understanding of the Sacred Liturgy, and to appreciate its meaning and importance in our lives… [T]he parish community should be catechized to receive the new translation.  Musicians and parishioners alike should soon be learning the various new and revised musical settings of the Order of Mass.

Some parishes prepared, and some didn’t; some did a little, and some did a lot.

But the above quote from the USCCB website hints at a very important component of the new translation which could have made a big difference:  “musical settings”.

The third edition of the Roman Missal contains more music than the previous editions, and it reflects the Gregorian chant roots of the liturgy. There has been much talk (at least in some circles) of “singing the Mass” instead of simply “singing at Mass”. Singing the Mass – especially singing the Mass in the way it is presented in the new Roman Missal – is a much more far-reaching change than the changes in the translation. It’s a change not just in the words, but in how the words are presented – with music that is truly liturgical.

Singing the Mass requires a priest to be willing to sing his parts; it requires the choir director to motivate the choir to learn a new style of singing along with some changes in the words; and it requires a congregation that will embrace the effort to learn new, sung, responses. None of this is easy, but it would be well worth it. It would bring up the sense of awe and reverence in the liturgy by more than just a few notches. It would lead souls toward holiness.

But it also requires a bishop who will lead his priests in implementing the singing of the Mass.

Bishop Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix is the only bishop I know of who has done some serious teaching about singing the Mass. That doesn’t mean others haven’t, but Bishop Olmsted’s teaching was highly visible; he published his comments in his monthly column in the Catholic Sun, the diocesan newspaper. (You can read all four parts of that series here.) I don’t know whether the Mass is sung at Bishop Olmsted’s cathedral, but at least the priests of the diocese – as well as the faithful – should have a pretty good idea what Bishop Olmsted thinks about the importance of liturgical music.

I did notice, as I was googling around for some information on this topic, that Bishop Joseph B. McFadden of the Diocese of Harrisburg, PA, instituted a diocesan-wide program for “singing the Mass”, complete with a “liturgical musicians symposium”. Perhaps such preparation and promotion of singing the Mass is more common than I have been thinking. Let’s hope so!

Meanwhile, where I live, there hasn’t been much change in the music at our local cathedral, nor at the surrounding parishes. 

There is a new Gloria, of course, but the choir chose a setting with a repeating refrain, which is clearly not permitted (GIRM §53). At the diocesan level, a rather bland and notably music-less presentation was created and is available at the diocesan website for parishes to show as a Power Point presentation, or simply download a booklet. But the presentation merely introduces the changes in the people’s parts, and “singing the Mass” isn’t even mentioned.

My general sense is that, in most parishes across the country, few have switched to singing the chants, even in English, and priests don’t seem to be using their singing voices.

And that is a problem which those of us in the pews can’t fix. Those who have been exposed to the beauty of the chant begin to see how the liturgy can become an integrated whole rather than a hodge-podge of styles and languages. But they also immediately see that the priest needs to sing his parts, too, and they ask, “How can we get Father to sing the prayers?”

The answer is: we can’t.

That’s where the leadership of the bishop comes in. And that brings us back to the point Wendi made in her post: bishops should be leading by example. When they do, we’ll see the Mass begin to be sung.

And then we will begin to see progress in returning the liturgy to its rightful state of beauty and noble simplicity.

Oh…by the way…if you want to learn more about chant, and if you want your priest to learn how to sing his parts, consider kidnapping your priest and taking him to the 2012 CMAA Colloquium in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Chant Café notes in a post inviting priests to the event (my emphases):

From Reverend Robert Pasley, CMAA Chaplain:

We send out a special invitation to all seminarians and priests. Please consider attending the 2012 CMAA Colloquium in Salt Lake City, Utah, from June 25 through July 1. Pope Benedict XVI has called for a hermeneutic of continuity in interpreting all Catholic teaching. There is no greater need for continuity than in the Sacred Liturgy. If we follow the official musical program given by the Church, we will immediately begin the process of restoring our Catholic Identity and revivifying the Sacred Treasury of our musical heritage. Priests, however, must be at the forefront of this revival. If they do not sing their chants, then the solemn sung Liturgy can never be realized, no matter how magnificent the parish choir is.

…We have a new Missal and the chants are now standardized in our Roman Tradition. You do not have to be a professional musician. You may not even know how to read music. You will have seven days to begin the process of understanding what you have to do…Fathers, you not only are absolutely necessary to consecrate the Holy Eucharist, you are also absolutely necessary for the Mass to be sung properly according to our Tradition!!!!!