Buy a beautiful missal

A few weeks back I wrote in these pages that the new Roman Missal, which will come into effect this Advent, should be beautiful, worthy of being on the altar during Mass. The missal is the book used by the priest which contains all the Mass prayers. A new English translation of the missal has been done, and so new missals are required in every Catholic parish.

The current missal produced by the publications service of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) is most unworthy, lacking even the creative design of a low-end recipe book. Canadian priests were hoping that the new missal published this fall would be a true work of art, not a mere functional instruction manual. We saw that publishers in England, Australia and the United States had sample pages posted online, drawing upon the long tradition of Catholic art adorning the altar missal. I wrote that if the CCCB version was as unimaginatively plain as their existing work, Canadian parishes should consider buying a British or American missal. All the prayers are exactly the same and the minor adaptations for Canada — local saints and variations in the rubrics for Mass — are easily enough obtained elsewhere.

Pius XII’s actions spoke louder than words

The conduct of Pope Pius XII during the Second World War, specifically in regard to Jews and the Shoah, has been a bone in the throat of Catholic-Jewish relations for some time now. Recent developments may point, however tentatively, to the possibility of a way forward.

In late June, the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy, made a remarkable statement in the course of the ceremony in which Fr. Gaetano Piccini was named “Righteous among the Gentiles” — a designation given to those who were heroic in saving Jews during the Shoah. Ambassador Lewy noted that after the Nazis rounded up Jews in Rome in October 1943 for deportation to the death camps, Catholic convents and monasteries opened their doors to shelter Jews — something risky and dangerous under Nazi occupation.

“There is reason to believe that this happened under the supervision of the highest Vatican officials, who were informed about what was going on,” he said. “So it would be a mistake to say that the Catholic Church, the Vatican and the pope himself opposed actions to save the Jews. To the contrary, the opposite is true.”

Lewy added that the fact that the Vatican couldn’t stop the deportation of Jews from Rome’s ghetto on Oct. 16-18, 1943 “only increased the will, on the part of the Vatican, to offer its own sites as refuges for the Jews.”

Some people miss mail

The recent disruption in Canada Post service has produced news stories about the unimportance of mail delivery that are at odds with my own experience, but presumably reflect the view of many others.

When Canada Post was on strike 14 years ago, even a few days without mail was big news. But during the recent disruption, settled on June 28, I’m not aware of a single newscast that made the work stoppage the lead item, and most days it has not even been front-page news. True, the growth of the online world has undoubtedly reduced most people’s reliance on mail delivery, but newscasters and pundits who think the letter carrier is dispensable are mistaken.

For those of us with a greater than average reliance on mail delivery, it was galling to see editorial content such as: “Postal strike looms — will anyone notice?”;  “In 20 years no one will remember what a mailbox looks like” or “I think there’s a packet of stamps in the house some place.” Even after almost a month, Lorne Gunter of the National Post claimed that “almost no one cares yet that the mail is not being delivered.” Trust me, if a good chunk of your income takes the form of cheques in the mail, you will care.

God’s call still shaping Pope Benedict’s life 60 years later

The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, is kept with suitable solemnity in Rome, with the Holy Father offering Mass at St. Peter’s on the patronal feast of his diocese. Ten years ago, in 2001, Blessed John Paul asked Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to celebrate the Mass in his stead. It was the 50th anniversary of Ratzinger’s priestly ordination, 29th June 1951, and the honour of offering the patronal Mass in the Holy Father’s presence was thought both a tribute to Ratzinger’s long service, and, perhaps, a prelude to a farewell earnestly sought by Ratzinger himself.

The farewell never came; the long service continued. Now, on the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination, Ratzinger will offer the Mass for the two princes of the apostles, not in place of anyone, but as Bishop of Rome himself.

Sixty years of faithful service in any vocation is a remarkable testimony of cooperation with God’s grace. The 60 years of Pope Benedict are all the more remarkable given that, since being called from his professor’s chair to the episcopate in 1977, he has been labouring in a section of the vineyard that he did not choose. On April 19, 2005, the cardinals chose him to be pope.

Joseph Ratzinger has long desired to devote his life to scholarship. Had it been up to him, his 60th anniversary would be spent, if not in heaven, in retirement in his library, studying and writing theology. But even as a young man Joseph knew that God might be calling him to something different.

Priests from abroad serve as fathers to Canadian Catholics

On Father’s Day, many Catholics take time to say a kind word to priests – their spiritual fathers. Might I suggest that this Father’s Day, a special word of gratitude be extended to those priests from foreign countries – India, Poland, Philippines, India, Nigeria and other nations – who are working in Canadian parishes, hospitals, prisons and universities? To extend the familial metaphor, they have become fathers to Canadian Catholics left orphaned by our own lack of priestly vocations.

It’s hard to overstate the catastrophic decline in priestly vocations. A senior Holy See diplomat, intimately familiar with the Canadian situation, once reported a devastating statistic: In one recent year there were more bishops in Canada than there were seminarians.

“A Church where there are as many bishops as seminarians is dead,” he told me. By that standard, if not dead, the Church in Canada is at least in intensive care.

D&P has a tenuous claim on Catholic dollars

It was about two months ago that I wrote about the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (D&P), and the serious questions about its pro-life commitment. It was just after Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., of Ottawa had cancelled the speaking tour of a D&P partner organization in Mexico which collaborated with groups promoting abortion rights. Since then the most frequent question I have been asked by pastors is: What should we do about raising money for D&P?

My view is that D&P has a tenuous claim on Catholic dollars because, aside from fundraising in Catholic parishes, they have a tenuous relationship with any distinctively Catholic mission. In their operations they are largely — and by their own proud design — indistinguishable from any number of peace and justice NGOs working in the developing world.

Developments since April have underscored how weak their Catholic identity really is. The controversy in Mexico centred on D&P’s relationship with the  Centro PRODH. As reported in these pages this week, the archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, wrote to the Canadian bishops saying that the Centro PRODH supports “activities that are an affront to Christian values.”

Punk album flew under responsibility radar

The case of a punk rock band giving back its government grant following a public outcry shines light again on the world of government funding for the arts and revives the issue of where to draw the line.

Vancouver’s Living with Lions recently released an album called Holy S**t, complete with graphics that included a resurrection figure appearing to be created from excrement. Before the album was recalled, the last line of the band’s acknowledgements read, “We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage,” the standard acknowledgement for all organizations receiving Heritage funding, and not something taxpayers expect to see on such vulgar packaging.

Through Canadian Heritage, our taxes fund all kinds of projects, many of them beneficial or at least non-controversial. In this case, funds were directed through the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR), which provides loans and grants to promote and foster Canadian talent. In its statement about the Living with Lions CD, FACTOR noted that “the record in question was packaged with graphics and liner notes that some may consider offensive. This material had not been submitted to FACTOR prior to its release. We have communicated to the record label that there has been a negative reaction from some members of the public regarding the content.”

Don’t spare the beauty for the new Roman Missal

Canadian parishes will begin preparing soon for the new translation of the Mass, to be implemented in Advent 2011. Yet one decision needs to be made sooner; parishes must order their copies of the new Roman Missal (the book of prayers for Mass used at the altar).

The missal must be beautiful. Anything that is not beautiful should never be on the altar. Our supreme worship of the Lord requires beauty. We too require beauty — which is why we dress up for important functions, decorate our homes by the season and use beautiful things for special occasions. Mercifully, the age of ugly vessels upon the altar is largely passed, and increasingly one sees beautiful vestments, church decor and architecture.

Most people never see the missal. Yet the priest who offers Mass and the servers who assist him need to be constantly reminded that what they are doing is not routine. The long tradition of missals that were themselves works of art was aimed at assisting the priest to be mindful of just that.

Missionary work is cultural as well

The first Jesuits in North America arrived 400 years ago. In 1611, two Jesuit priests arrived in what is now Nova Scotia, a few months after the local Mi’kmaq chief decided to be baptized along with his family, becoming the first aboriginal Christians in Canada. With the conversion of the chief, the first Jesuits found a secure welcome and lived with the Mi’kmaq for several years. Consequently the quatercentenary emphasized the initial encounter between the Jesuits and the Mi’kmaq. But as reported in The Catholic Register (Jesuits mark 400 years of ministry in Canada), the Mi’kmaq were not only looking to the past. They want the Jesuits to help with the future.

“Maybe it’s time for the Mi’kmaq to ask for your help in preserving our language,” said Grand Keptin Antle Denny. Young people do not learn their mother tongue; indeed the new mother tongue is English for about 70 per cent of Mi’kmaq. Their historic tongue will be extinct within 20 years.

What the Jesuits can do about that is not clear. Yet the Mi’kmaq were on to something — there is a longstanding connection between Christian missionaries and the preservation and enrichment of indigenous languages.

Catholics are once again embracing meatless Fridays

Fish’n’chips, anyone? It’s either that or, given the preponderance of Indian takeout in England today, vegetable samosas and prawn curry for Catholics on Friday come this fall.

Last week the Catholic bishops of England and Wales decided to bring back Friday abstinence from meat, an initiative of potentially enormous significance. The abandonment of Friday abstinence was one of the great pastoral blunders in history, a self-inflicted neutering of Catholic identity and an assault on our own tradition. Its restoration marks a sign of increasing Catholic confidence and common sense.

According to the universal law of the Church, all Fridays, save for those which coincide with solemn feasts (e.g. St. John the Baptist this year), are days of abstinence — no eating meat. But the Code of Canon Law permits the bishops of various countries to modify the rule. Most countries did just that some 40 years ago, saying that while the obligation to do penance held, each Catholic could choose for himself what that penance might be.

The upshot was that Friday communal penance disappeared almost entirely. Not completely — I often eat at the cathedral in Kingston where, like many religious houses, there is no meat on Fridays, and at our chaplaincy activities at Newman House the students themselves are attentive to Friday abstinence. Yet most Catholics don’t observe it, and several generations may not have even heard about it.

In England, the noted historian Eamon Duffy, a self-styled Catholic liberal, called for the return of Friday abstinence in 2004, writing in the flagship journal of all things Catholic and trendy, The Tablet.

“Friday abstinence in particular was a focus of Catholic identity which transcended class and educational barriers, uniting ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Catholics in a single eloquent observance. Here was a universally recognized expression of Catholicism which was nothing to do with priests or authority,” he wrote.

The trend of abolishing distinctive marks of Catholic identity now seems dated. In 1967, when getting rid of compulsory Friday abstinence, the English bishops wrote: “While an alternative dish is often available, it is questioned whether it is advisable in our mixed society for a Catholic to appear singular in this matter. Non-Catholics know and accept that we do not eat meat on Fridays, but often they do not understand why we do not, and in consequence regard us as odd.”

By “odd” the bishops of the day meant “different,” and by different, they meant not Protestant. In a desire to fit in, to seem less, well, Catholic, the English bishops made themselves, in fact, less Catholic.

Today though, any Catholic serious about his faith wants to be different from the toxic culture in which he lives. Being different is helped by doing things differently. The spiritual purpose of Friday abstinence is a communal penance to recall the Lord’s passion, but as a marker of Catholic identity it is far more needed now than 50 years ago when it was universally observed.

Friday abstinence gives us a chance for mutual encouragement and public witness. Invited for dinner on Friday? It permits us to mention ahead of time that we don’t eat meat — an indirect way of saying that my Catholic faith is important, and that I am not ashamed of it. After all, if one can proudly announce that one doesn’t eat beef because bovine flatulence is causing climate change, abstaining from meat in recollection of the redemption of the whole world seems reasonable enough.

And if the world should think us odd? We then find ourselves in the tradition of St. Paul, who was willing to be thought a fool for Christ. Moreover, the far greater danger is that the world does not think us odd for being Catholic, given what the world considers normal.

In recent years, the practice of voluntary Friday abstinence has become more prevalent, especially among younger Catholics who are precisely seeking a greater sense of Catholic identity and for ways of bringing their faith into their daily lives. Friday abstinence is a relatively easy way to give witness at work, at school and even in the family.

It’s not a terribly great sacrifice, if at all. As a boy I looked forward to Friday dinners as the aforementioned prawn curry and other fish and seafood dishes were my favourites. It can pinch at times, but at least a pinch of penance needs to be part of every Christian life, especially on Fridays.

The new primate of Canada, Archbishop Gérald Lacroix of Quebec City, wears a small fish hook pin on his lapel. It’s a symbol of the new evangelization; he’s a fisher of men. Fish on Friday can be a wider reminder too of who we are and our evangelical mission.

(Fr. de Souza is the pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary parish on Wolfe Island and chaplain at Newman House at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont.)

A fair and proper ruling

A recent decision by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal could provide a valuable precedent in future challenges to the religious freedom rights of Catholic organizations.

As reported in The Register April 24, the complaint to the Ontario human rights body was made by a parishioner of a church in Eastern Ontario who disagreed with the placement of a pro-life message on church property. The case between the Chevaliers de Colombe (Knights of Columbus) and Marguerite Dallaire stems from a monument and inscription on the lawn of the Church of St-Jean Baptiste in l’Original, Ont., stating (in French) “Let us pray that all life rests in the hands of God from conception until death.”

Ms. Dallaire complained to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario that “the inscription is offensive and discriminatory because it denounces, victimizes and excludes women.” Her application, and the tribunal’s decision, make it clear that she disagrees with the Church on the matter of abortion.