My experience of the Catholic Migration...

Taylor Marshall, over at the Canterbury Tales, recently wrote about the "Great Catholic Migration" that is taking place in our time. The title may sound a bit exaggerated, as he goes on to point out that the number of people that he is talking about are really in the minority, but nevertheless, it does seem in many ways that this Catholic Migration is taking place, great or not.

Maybe my experience is limited by region, but the migration that I have seen much of the time is somewhat in the opposite direction. I have seen many young newly ordained priests, who love the Church in all Her teachings, traditions, and service, placed in new parishes amidst the turmoil of division. Often times, these young priests are what holds these parishes together and prevents migration.

In larger cities, it may be easier to favor a parish with a more reverent liturgy, sound teaching, and active parish life, but in rural areas it is much more difficult. For example, where I live there are about seven parishes, all about 20-30 minutes away. Very few of the parishes have activities for young people/families, and the parish community is dominated by older folks 50+ years of age.

The parishes with the greatest ratio of younger people to older people are the parishes with the soundest most challenging homilies every week and more traditional liturgies. There could be several reasons for this. Maybe young people are being drawn to the reverence and challenging homilies. Or maybe the way that the liturgy is done and the challenge of the homily prevents them from ever leaving. I do not know how so many parishes have managed to stay young.

All I can do is share my own experience. I was raised in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. I attended a Catholic School, which was also my home parish. I can look back on my experience with liturgy and restrict it to two very different perspectives. As an altar server, Mass was very structured, ordered, reverent, traditional, etc... As a student/parishioner Mass was about me.

I learned how to serve Mass from a man named Tom. That is about all I remember of him. I remember he was not a bold man, or intimidating in any way. We would show up to Mass 15 minutes early and put on our albs in the sacristy. Once vested, we would prepare the credence table. We would make sure that everything that we needed for Mass was ready to go.

We knew our prayers, our gestures, our postures, and all our cues. The Mass was given to us to do as it was done before. Older servers would instruct the younger ones, and any deviation from the rule was frowned upon by all. Tom always sat nearby to prompt us if we were forgetting something, and if something was wrong, he might sneak away to take care of it from the sacristy.

As a student, however, it was all about us. It was about what we wanted. We had a youth choir and we incorporated as much of the music that we enjoyed as possible. As students, we'd put together banners to wave during the entrance procession. We would contrive hand movements to cheesy songs. We would clap if we felt like it. Everything was done for us, by us, and we were praised at the end of every Mass with applause.

Nothing we did was handed down to us. Everything we did we created. It was all about what we wanted to do within some nebulous structure called "Mass."

Serving the Mass was boring. So, naturally I wanted to sing and clap. I moved away from L.A. and back to the parish I was baptized at in Colorado. I was there throughout high school, and during those years, I served the Mass and I played guitar and sang in the Choir, which was made up of family. I personally grew tired of singing the same songs over and over, and eventually left the choir. I was hired by the parish as Sacristan and part of my duties was to co-ordinate the liturgy.

Every Friday, I would sit down with the Pastor and Music Director and we would look at the readings, find a theme, and base music and homily on it. I would inform them if there was a baptism or some other event that might present a them that we could use in the homily or music. And we would look at the Missal and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and try to think of ways to incorporate many of the things that we were not doing.

It was during this period of time, that I began to realize the depth of the Mass in its significance and majesty. I began to read more and more about the Mass and its beauty and meaning. There further I would educate myself the more cheated I felt. I wanted the Mass I read about. I am convinced that the Mass that most of us know is not the Mass of Vatican II. Vatican II wanted full and active participation in the Mass, which does not mean more singing and clapping. In the terminology of Pope St. Pius X, we are called to 'pray the Mass' ourselves. Vatican II wanted full and active participation in our prayer, but the problem is that just about no one in our parishes knows what we are supposed to do, what it means, and why it is there. How are we supposed to pray what we do not understand?

For one, I love going to a Mass done that is done according to rubrics and tradition. The Mass is like a great novel. It can be read time and time again, and each time it is read, you pick up something new. I am drawn to particular Masses at particular parishes, not because of the 'reverence,' but because of the meaning. The rubrics contain more meaning than any innovation that we could come up with.

I am not a part of any migration, but maybe that is only because I am blessed enough to have parishes and pastors in this area that tend to do things by the book. More than anything, the migration has taken place within me. In the right circumstances and given the option, I would probably migrate too.

The Common Origin of the Rad-Trad, Liturgico-Liberal...

Let me begin by defining my terms. I am not here speaking of what we in world of popular Catholic culture generally refer to as a Rad-Trad. I am speaking of a very specific type of Radical-Traditionalist, namely with regard to liturgical norms. There is a pious, and maybe over-pious, type that, though confessing the validity of the Ordinary Form (OForm) of the Mass, will practice gestures and postures of the Extraordinary Form (ExForm) in place of the legitimately determined norms - which carry the weight of law - for the OForm. For example, the OForm calls us to make a bow of the body (a profound or deep bow) during the recitation of the Credo at the words, "and by the Holy Spirit...and became man," but in spite of this norm, the Rad-Trad will genuflect or kneel as is common in the ExForm. As a side note, let me mention two things. First, the Church has maintained the tradition of genuflecting at these words on two solemn occasions, the Solemnities of the Nativity and Annunciation. Secondly, the reason behind this change was to elevate the expression on these two solemnities and not to lessen the expression at every other Mass at which the Credo is recited.

On the other hand, the type of person I have referred to as the Liturgico-Liberal (Lit-Lib), is one who espouses a form of worship that views adherence to the norms as a rigoristic false-piety. The Lit-Lib believes that true worship springs forth from the heart and in as much as this is the case it does not make much of a difference what form of expression it takes, since of course, each heart is unique. Ergo, an anything goes type of mentality is adopted so long as this sort of individual expression does not impede the worship of others trying to worship, to a degree. So, according to the same example, the Lit-Lib will avoid bowing, may only bow the head, or who knows, may even jump up and down at that part of the Credo.

Searching for a Common Origin

Already, a sort of commonality should be manifesting itself, namely a certain disregard for the norms of Mass. The problem in saying that this disregard is the common origin, however, is that there are two very different ideologies set forth as the reason for this disregard. Interestingly, these two radically different ideologies have a common origin. In fact, these two ideologies share a common origin with the entirety of Protestantism, which may sound shocking or unfounded, but I hope to make clear my point.

The Protestant Reformation takes as a preeminent principle the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Catholics, on the other hand, rely on three integral principles, namely Apostolic Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and Apostolic Magisterium. Because of Protestantism's wholesale rejection of Sacred Tradition and the teaching authority of the Magisterium, Protestantism had to adopt a new doctrine of interpretation.

In terms of theology, Scripture functions as the material principle for both Protestantism and Catholicism. In Catholicism, however, two additional principles exist, one being material and the other formal. The Magisterium, functioning as the formal principle, prevents misinterpretation of Scripture and Tradition, and it gives the deposit of faith, which is made up of the sum total of truths contained in Scripture and Tradition, its proper and definitive form.

Protestantism had to reject the Magisterium, on the grounds that the Magisterium and Tradition disagreed with the doctrines proposed by the Reformation. Thus, Protestantism was left without a formal principle by which Scripture was to be formulated into definitive doctrines. In order to fill the vacuum left by the absence of a formal principle the principle of private judgment was implicitly adopted. This means that every believer has the absolute authority to interpret scripture without recourse to the historically legitimized authority and the one laid down by scripture itself.

The Principle of Private Judgment

This individualistic principle became a cultural norm and the impetus behind the unbridled division of Christianity into so many Christian denominations (over 33,000).  Without a formal principle behind the  unformulated truths of Scripture, a multitude of interpretations erupted and caused division among ecclesial communities.

As a cultural norm, however, the disregard for authority in favor of private judgment has led to a widespread attitude of dissent that perfuses society. Now, I am not saying that the Protestant Reformation is the origin of Rad-Trad or Lit-Libs. What I am saying is that the principle of private judgment as having absolute authority is the origin of both the Rad-Trad and Lit-Lib mentalities, even if the absolute authority only pertains to communal worship.

The principle of private judgment has a place in Catholic theology. On matters lacking authoritative definitions and formulations our own private judgment is respected. We rely on well established dogmas and doctrines, however, as having a superior authority to our own private judgment.

The question we face is whose judgment is authoritative in matters liturgical. Both Rad-Trads and Lit-Libs implicitly resort to the principle of private judgment on these matters. In doing so, prayer en règle is regarded as either insufficient in light of the greater tradition or lacking 'heart.' In effect, the authority of the Church has been supplanted by authority of the individual, who determines what the Liturgy should be. So, the principle of private judgment can ultimately be determined to be the point of origin for both the Rad-Trad and Lit-Lib.

In reality, the Church does have the authority to shape and reshape the liturgy. She has always done so, however, organically and in light of Her tradition. Only by attempting to submit ourselves to the authority of the Church in liturgical matters can we avoid the pitfalls of error. Educating ourselves about what the Church teaches on these matters and assimilating them into our own lives can only strengthen our prayer lives.

In Medio Stat Virtus

Should Catholics find out the sex of their children before birth?

Since finding out that my wife and I are expecting our first child, I have been debating whether or not we should determine the sex of our child using ultrasound or if we should wait. I have asked quite a few people why they decided to wait, and received one of three responses. I would like to share with you, my own thoughts, their responses, and my own critiques of their responses. Most of what is written here is taken from an email exchange between me and a friend. Yesterday, my wife and I found out the sex of the baby. This is meant to be fun; so, enjoy!

A distinction between sex and gender.

Sex is a the difference between man and woman. Gender is a linguistic term extended metaphorically to imply a that the difference between man and woman is a social construct. Sex is natural and gender is sociological. In Bl. John Paul II's Theology of the Body he uses sex solely to refer to the difference between man and woman.

First ultrasound of my child.
Here are some words from the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, from his most recent State of the Church and the World address:
The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being - of what being human really means - is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: "one is not born a woman, one becomes so" (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term "gender" as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. 
The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature.

My own perspective:

Since I try to weigh things according to their goodness as ordered towards some end or as an end in itself, as regards determining the sex of the baby, I have found this to be the case: Love is predicated on knowledge. The greater the knowledge of the thing, the greater the possibility for a fuller and deeper love.

Knowing the sex of the child as early as possible changes how we perceive the relation of the child to us. As a man my relation to the child is as father but the child's relation to me is either as son or as daughter.

The change in relation effects a change in identity. In the procreation of a child, a person ceases to be simply husband or wife. Now, with the addition of a third person, a new relation is formed. The relation is as either father or mother of either a son or a daughter.

A further change takes place in each of us as we love. Now, maybe it seems like a stretch to say that by knowing the sex of the child we love it more, and maybe my explanation of that point is long-winded and over-thought. I, however, feel that it is true, and allows us other goods that pertain to our relationship.

Namely, knowing the sex of the child allows us to name it, even if provisionally, since ultrasound technology is rarely 100% accurate. Naming the child further changes the relationship that we have with the child, since names change our identity and purpose. To that end I would cite the importance of names in the bible, e.g. Abram/Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, John, Simon/Peter, and so forth.

Furthermore, as Christians we view names as important with regard to patronage. Dedicating a child to a particular patronage and under the protection of a saint has its graces. We should never knowingly forego the opportunity for grace.

The reasons for waiting:

On the other hand, the reasons I have garnered for waiting are threefold; I will call them: 1) the surprise factor, 2) the distraction factor, and 3) the historical argument.

¡The surprise factor!

According to this argument, one figures that either there is an appropriate time for the surprise and any sooner spoils it or there is a certain emotional climax in the midst of labor that culminates in finding out the sex.

The distraction factor

The distraction factor argues that it is easier to handle some of the pain of pregnancy when there is something to look forward to that distracts from the pain. The sex is that which distracts from pain according to this argument.

The historical argument

The historical argument is simply, "our forefathers did not find out until the birth and it was good enough for them, so it should be good enough for us."

Applying my own perspective:

First, the delay of a surprise adds to the expectation of the surprise but not to the surprise itself. There is a relief of the expectation that is derived from finding out after such a delay, and this experience though enjoyable is, to me, outweighed by the joy derived from a longer period of 'knowledge of the child' as I described above.

Secondly, if the anticipation of meeting your child and looking in its eyes is not enough to distract from the pain, I doubt that the sex of the child is enough to distract from the pain. I dismiss this argument altogether.

Thirdly, there is a difference between good enough and better. For example, bread and water is good enough, steak is better. What was good enough for those who came before us is not necessarily better. Some argument must be made for the superiority of not knowing. The arguments that have been made for not knowing are either surprise or distraction. As I have already refuted these arguments no further argument must be made as regards the third point.

I have heard arguments and listened carefully giving each the benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, I find that the deeper knowledge is more valuable. Further, naming the child applies to a 'deeper knowledge' argument as well as practicability. It is also more practical in order of preparation with regards to clothes and blankets and such to know the sex of the child, for certain colors whether we like it or not are not sociologically gender neutral.

By the way, we're pretty sure that it's a GIRL!

Obviously this is a very personal choice, and it boils down to a matter of preference. I would love to hear your stories about waiting or not, or just let me know why you chose to wait or not in the comments below.

The Wedding: an Image of Revelation 21...

I had the privilege of attending the wedding of a good friend of mine this last weekend. It was a beautiful wedding with beautiful music and a beautiful wedding. Beauty was just oozing from every nook and cranny and every fold of fabric. The pipe organ was blasting beauty as delicately as beauty can be blasted. I think you get the picture.

It was also a quite small wedding. There may have been 100 guests. Everyone had been ushered toward the front of a small cathedral church that may hold a little over 200 people. The bride's family sitting cozily shoulder-to-shoulder on one side, and the groom's family lounging comfortably more spread out on the other, it was obvious who was from this area.

There was no incense at this Mass, so the only smell was the perfume and cologne of all those duded up, and the overwhelming smell of eucalyptus and menthol from the lozenge in my mouth. Out of respect for the solemnity of the occasion I was trying very hard to stifle the cough that I had picked up days earlier.

The pipe organ erupted with a great belch of some major chord, and then quickly toned back on the volume as the bridal party and ministers processed in. Everyone took their places in the sanctuary. We were ready and anxious. "Here she comes. Is she coming now? Where is she? Is that her? I think that's her. There she is!" I thought as the music changed.

Then it hit me. I was no longer looking at her. I mean, I was looking right at her, but it was not her that I was seeing. She was, to me, an image. You see, as Catholics we have this beautiful tradition of theological language, and 'image' is one of these words that has a specific meaning. For this reason, some theologians tend not to translate the Latin term 'imago' into English. Theologians like to throw around the term 'imago Dei' (image of God) when talking about man's dignity. Image, then, might need some clarification.

When we talk about man being made in the image of God, we, as Catholics, are not saying that man looks like God. As far as I understand Mormonism, that is something that they would claim, for God was once a man like us. In Mormonism, God is a material being. In Catholicism, however, God is immaterial, with the exception of His hypostatic union. So, we can say this: God the Father is immaterial and divine; God the Holy Spirit is immaterial and divine; God the Son is fully divine and fully human with no mixing of the two and is therefore immaterial in His divinity and material in His humanity.

Since, however, Christ's materiality takes place in time, and it takes place after the creation of the world and the formation man from the earth and the creation of his soul by God's breath, we ought not to attribute man's image to Christ's humanity. Furthermore, we ought not to attribute man's image to the earth from which he was taken. Rather, if we are looking for a place wherein the image value may reside, our best bet is in man's soul. For God's breath (which can be translated as spirit) is life itself, and man's animating principle (anima or soul) is the very Spirit of God. "Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Gen. 2:7).

Man is more like God in his soul than in his body. So, man as an image of God, must image Him in his soul, and in fact, he does (CCC 356-361, 363). This, however, is not to say that man's body and his soul are two totally separate things. They are not. The soul is the principle of life of the body. Another way to say this is if you want to see the soul, look at a living body.

The soul images God in as much as it is capable of self-knowledge, self-possession, and of freely entering into communion with other persons. In this way man is more like God than any other material being. For this reason, man is called image. An image therefore is a most perfect likeness to something prior. A portrait and a stick figure are likenesses to a person. The portrait, however, is more perfect and therefore is an image. Symbols too can be images. For example, the cross, which is so closely bound up in Christ's crucifixion, is an image of Christ Himself. It is a less perfect image than a crucifix, but no doubt calls to mind and represents Christ and no one else.

Now, back to my original point. I was no longer seeing the bride. She was for me an image. An image of what you may ask? "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them" (Rev 21:1-3).

It is because God wants to be with us. He wants live with us and love us and us to love Him. He wants to be our Bridegroom and we to be His bride. In Baptism we are betrothed to Him. In Confirmation we are married to Him. In the Eucharist we consummate that marriage, and that consummation is fecund. It is life-giving. Matrimony does not start imaging this dynamic at the wedding Mass. It begins with the courtship. It only becomes apparent, at least... It did not become apparent to me till I saw this bride adorned for her husband.

Tell me about your favorite wedding experience and how it affects you in the comment box below.

The Hobbit - How Jackson lacks the subtlety of Tolkien...

I went to see "The Hobbit" a couple weeks ago. I will admit that I found the movie enjoyable, as movies go. I am not bothered by 'slow' movies or 'long' movies. I was fully expecting a greater amount of whimsy and humor than has the movies of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and so, I was not put off, as it were, by the absurd behavior of the dwarves.

I am quite familiar and fond of the book, and to a large degree, I was disappointed by certain changes that were made to the story. I have even taken a full semester's college course on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, which focused on three books, namely "The Silmarillion," "The Hobbit," and "The Lord of the Rings."

My opinion of Tolkien's works is founded on this study of these three works, which can be read in one of three orders, I think, properly. The chronological order, which follows the history of Middle Earth, is the easiest of the three to grasp the 'entire' story. The order in which the works was published allows the reader to follow a certain development of story telling and helps one to understand the author better. The order in which the stories developed is really identical with the chronological order for the most part.

Speaking of the 'entire' story (the history of Middle Earth) Tolkien says, "I did not know as I began ["the Hobbit"] that it belonged. But it proved to be the discovery of the completion of the whole..." (taken from the Preface to The Silmarillion, pp. xii-xii).

Early in life, Tolkien developed a love for languages and with them a love for faerie-story and myth. He began creating his own languages. His languages needed people to speak them and the people needed a history, which is in short where the works come from. Many of the stories were developed early in Tolkien's life, but did not find their way to paper until later in life. So, "The Silmarillion" is the culmination of a lifetime's thought and writing, but nevertheless, is the earliest in the chronological order and the order of development.

Tolkien describes his work as "mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine." "The Silmarillion" describes the earliest Fall, and from it comes Mortality. The later works are more focused on Mortality and the Machine though having instances of individual 'falls,' in particular the Lord of the Rings.

"The Hobbit" then should be understood according to this motif. Therefore, we can ask ourselves these sorts of questions: What is Bilbo's Fall? What is Bilbo's experience and view of his own mortality? How does Bilbo respond to his mortality? Is his response one of Art or Machine/Magic?

It is difficult to develop a reasonable judgment of the first installment of the movie series without seeing how subtle changes play out in the end. Maybe some ideas will be compensated for or supplemented with other ideas.

Regardless of how it plays out, changes to the written story always do some harm to the author's intention. It is inevitable that anyone who has read the book will be a little disappointed here or there. So, my judgment of the movie is rooted in certain aspects of the main themes of Tolkien's works being omitted.

For example, early in the story Bilbo encounters Gandalf. Disturbed from his comfort, but minding his manners, Bilbo dismisses Gandalf with a "good-morning" and an invitation to tea. The invitation to tea is Bilbo's way of inviting Gandalf into his own world while at the same time rejecting Gandalf's invitation for Bilbo to become a part of his. This dynamic is missing from the movie, but the scene is still there.

After Gandalf takes advantage of this invitation and sends nine dwarves ahead of him, and arrives with the final four, which includes Thorin the leader of their company, Gandalf presents Bilbo to the dwarves as their burglar. Bilbo is horrified at the thought and proceeds to shirk from acceding to such a title. A great conflict arises in Bilbo, who is half Baggins and half Took. The Baggins side of him desires comfort but the Took side desires to adventure and make the most of life.

Eventually, during this meal, the Baggins side loses and by way of obstinance Bilbo regrettably makes himself part of the company, even if not full-willingly. The next morning he is surprised to find that the house is empty and much to the delight of the Baggins in him, which ultimately wins. Bilbo's desire for comfort, which lies as parallel to Smaug's desire for treasure, wins. Bilbo will not seek them out, and this is the first and most important 'Fall' that Bilbo experiences, for it ultimately leads to a greater development of his character.

Just then, Gandalf arrives and his words fluster Bilbo to the point of him leaving to join the company with nothing, no cloak, hood, nor handkerchief. It is by Gandalf's instigation alone that Bilbo joins the company on its journey. This subtle but complex drama is left out of Peter Jackson's film. Instead it is replaced by a conflict between Bilbo's Baggins side and Took side, with the Took side ultimately winning.

Unfortunately, this is a moral victory for Bilbo, which ultimately takes away from any sort of character development that could be possible. The dynamic in Tolkien's version is one that often parallels our experience of grace; when we allow God into our lives, even by rejecting His invitation to enter into His life, we open ourselves enough for God to do great things with us. In the end, we give an inch and God takes a mile, and we return home a different person.

These literary devices of Tolkien are so analogical to life that they border often times on allegorical readings, which was never Tolkien's intent. Rather, his myths are meant to imitate life in such a way as to lend itself to a multitude of readings. My criticism of Jackson's movie, as enjoyable as it is to watch, is that it ultimately takes away from some of the most beautifully subtle moments of Tolkien's story.

I will, however, withhold my full judgment until the story is told in its entirety. And might I add, I am quite pleased to see that the story of the Necromancer is being drawn out. It is a wonderful connection between "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings."