Monday 30 June 2008

New City Magazine: July 2008

Each month, the magazine New City prints the "Word of Life". This is the meditation on a short Scripture quotation prepared by the Focolare movement, and used by its members and friends throughout the world.

The Word of Life for July is the "golden rule": In everything do to others as you would have them do to you: for this is the law and the prophets (Mt 7:12). This rule is reflected in the thought of the other world religions, and can also be lived in a completely non-religious way.

On the page opposite Chiara Lubich's meditation on this Scripture text, New City reproduces a mosaic from the United Nations building in New York that expresses this "golden rule". It strikes me that this "golden rule" is an excellent and entirely appropriate motif for the idea and purpose of the United Nations as an organisation. It is a motif that has the possibility of uniting in common purpose those of different religious beliefs and those of no religious beliefs.

However, this uniting in common purpose of those of different beliefs cannot be successfully achieved on the basis of indifferentism. The essential motivation behind the mosaic at the United Nations should not be one that is indifferent to the differences between its members, treating those differences as if they do not matter. On the contrary, it should be a motivation that is anxious to find and build on what is common, among the differences (if that does not seem a contradiction).

When Pope Benedict XVI visited the United Nations in April 2008, I commented on the welcome given to him by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and contrasted this with the welcome given by President Bush. In this context I would suggest that there is a need to recall the United Nations, as represented by its Secretary General, to the original sense of the "golden rule" mosaic. Trying to attribute "faith" to those of no religious belief, and referring to religious "faith" as being something that a non-believer can have a share of - I really cannot grasp what the word "faith" means when it is used in this way. And this indifference between belief and non-belief undermines the idea of a commonality-across-difference (by doing away with any genuine idea of difference) that is essential to correctly understanding the universal appeal of the "golden rule".

International Eucharistic Congress: "mission activities"

Zero writes:

"You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24).

The Eucharistic Congress also included "mission activities" in and around Quebec City. Following the morning catechesis, people interested in doing these activities attended a separate Mass in another "chapel" - mission work usually started from 1 pm and this Mass was shorter as there was no music.

On the first day, only about 60 people attended Mass and of these only a few were to be involved in the mission activities. The priest likened the few in number to how it must have been when St Paul started out. Over the week Mass attendance increased to over 200 although, again, most just stayed for Mass.

Activities included visiting a home for deaf people, a home for the elderly, the handicapped at a L'Arche community, preparing meals for the homeless and at a home for recovering alcoholics, and street evangelisation.

With several others I twice visited a unit that provides meals for immigrant families and teaches them skills to enable them to find jobs. Our "mission" was to peel vast amounts of vegetables - it's surprising how many you can get through while getting to know your fellow workers! I didn't give up on the onion peeling despite the fact I cried throughout!

Another day we cleaned at the home for recovering alcoholics and were shown round La Maison Mere Mallet where three elderly nuns (oldest age 85 years), with the help of volunteers, provide daily meals for the homeless.

The street evangelisation seemed to have been pre-organised by the youth group.

Unfortunately, only one of the volunteers leading us spoke English well and two others a little, and my French is pathetic. As most of Quebec is mainly French speaking I felt what I could volunteer for was limited. Also on some days there were more people willing to do the mission than places for them to go - only so many could go to each place. These activities must be difficult to arrange as there are health and safety and hygiene issues to be considered and, for example, people providing meals for the homeless need to know in advance they ahve enough workers to actually make the meal! They couldn't just rely on mission workers.

I was told the Congress had found it difficult to get enough volunteers which is a pity as possibly more could have then been done. However, all the volunteers I came into contact with couldn't have been more friendly and helpful and I'm glad to have taken part.

An offensive image

Page 3 of today's Times newspaper carries a picture of Robert Mugabe holding up a bible as he is sworn in as President of Zimbabwe.

I should be careful to say that it is not the photograph itself, the photographer or the publishing newspaper that give offense.

What I do find offensive is the idea that the campaign of violence and intimidation, and the complete disregard for the well-being of the people of Zimbabwe, that characterised Mugabe's election campaign is compatible with Christian teaching.

Christian teaching expects a respect for the dignity of each and every human person - and the regime of Robert Mugabe has systematically and consistently denied that respect and dignity.

Saturday 28 June 2008

International Eucharistic Congress: Latin in the liturgy

I think it was Cardinal Josef Tomko, the representative of the Holy Father to the Congress, who observed in a homily that he preferred the word "universal" to that of "international" to describe the Eucharistic Congresses. The Quebec Congress had three official languages - French, English and Spanish - with translation into several other languages via FM radio and headphones (supplied as part of the Congress welcome pack) available at the main congress venue. Inevitably, the majority of the Congress participants came from Canada and the United States, with Latin America providing perhaps the next largest contingent (I saw groups from Mexico, Peru and Colombia). I rather take for granted the ability that I have to follow French as well as English, but for those with only one of the official Congress languages participation must not have always been that easy.

So, with the best will in the world, the Congress didn't quite manage to be fully international as far as languages and participating countries went.

However, there were a number of points in the Liturgy where Latin was used, not just once, but each day (except Wednesday, when Mass was celebrated according to the Byzantine Rite). At both morning prayer and Mass, the Our Father was sung in Latin. The opening greeting In nomine Patris and Pax vobis were sung in Latin, along with their responses. The dialogue Verbum Domini/Deo Gratias was sung in Latin after each of the Scripture readings, as were the Dominus vobiscum etc at the Gospel. The dialogue at the beginning of the Preface was also in Latin, as were the Sanctus (I think, for those who know about such things, it was Mass VIII - I liked it, anyway), the Mysterium Fidei and the Per ipsum. The Credo, too, was sung in Latin when it was used. The office hymn for morning prayer on the Monday of the Congress was the Veni Creator Spiritus.

The words and music for all of this were provided in the Liturgy booklet, which was important for those less familiar with the Latin. Other parts of each celebration mixed use of the three official Congress languages, with additional languages being used for the prayers of the faithful.

The singing of the Pater Noster in particular seemed to go very easily and readily. For me, it seemed to represent a moment at which the universality of the Church could be experienced, with most people seeming able to join in quite easily. I think Cardinal Tomko has a point about the word "universal" to describe these Congresses ...

First Friday: Eucharistic Adoration in the parish

Down from the dizzy heights of Statio Orbis to Statio Parochiis (well, it sounds good, even if the Latin - and the theology - may be wrong). I only seem to have saved the "invitation" version of the poster:

This Friday sees the last Adoration in our current series, marked by the three international celebrations taking place in the life of the Church this year: the 150th anniversary of the apparitions in Lourdes, the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec and the World Youth Day in Sydney. As you will see, the theme is that of the World Youth Day and I am preparing meditations on the sub-themes of the catecheses planned for the Tuesday-Thursday of the World Youth Day events: (1) Called to live in the Holy Spirit (2) The Holy Spirit, soul of the Church and (3) Sent out into the world: the Holy Spirit, the principal agent of mission.

From September - unless I am encouraged otherwise, I may not do Adoration in August - the branding will change to that of the Year of St Paul.

Friday 27 June 2008

International Eucharistic Congress: dancing with the saints

These two photographs were taken during our last morning in Quebec. We walked down from our bed and breakfast to the Church of St Michel, in the Sillery area of Quebec. This Church looks out over the St Lawrence River, and is very much associated with the first arrival of Christian missionaries in Quebec. It is the site of a cross which has been blessed as part of the celebrations of the 350th anniversary of the arrival of Mgr Laval, the first bishop of the diocese of Quebec. This anniversary coincides with the 400th anniversary of the foundation of Quebec itself.

In front of the Church is a life size set of statues of the Jesuit martyrs John Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and companions, who were martyred between 1642 and 1649. Zero is "dancing" with St Charles Garnier SJ. There is a Catholic school named after St Charles Garnier in Quebec - we passed it each day on the bus on our way to the Congress venue.

During the Congress, there was a strong sensitivity to the saints of Quebec. Mgr Laval, the first bishop of Quebec has been beatified. Blessed Marie de l'Incarnation (a street is named after her in Quebec), Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, St Margaret D'Youville were also referred to. These saints and blesseds of Quebec were represented by large marionettes during the opening ceremony of the Congress, the same figures leading the Blessed Sacrament procession through the streets of Quebec on Thursday evening.

At the end of one of the Congress Masses, Cardinal Ouellet announced the acceptance by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints of the completion of the diocesan process for the beatification of another Catholic from Quebec (I can't remember the name, and will post it as soon as I can track it down!).

And in his homily at Mass on the Saturday of the Congress, Cardinal Arinze delineated the saints in whose company the Congress had taken place. His long list included St Thomas More and St John Fisher, whose feast days would have been celebrated on the following day, 22nd June, had that day not been a Sunday.

International Eucharistic Congress: two more photographs

I have just been sent two photographs taken on the morning of the Statio Orbis Mass. The first was taken before Mass began, and the second during my reading. The Cardinal is Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec - I wasn't altogether alert to this photograph being taken, but it has come out quite well!

Passing thought on Catholic child care agencies

Recent media and blog posts report on differing responses by Catholic child care agencies to the challenge presented by pro-gay/pro-lesbian legislation which will require them to process applications from same sex couples to become foster parents and to be willing to place children with such couples. One approach, perhaps best exemplified by the position advocated by the Bishop of Lancaster diocese, is to ensure that the purposes of the agency are framed to be clearly Catholic and to face out the pro-gay/pro-lesbian legislation on the grounds of religious equality. Another approach, perhaps best exemplified by the agency that covers Southwark diocese, is rather the opposite. It is to cease being a Catholic agency and to comply with the expectation of the legislation that the agency will now place children for adoption with same sex couples.

I am interested in the part played by different stakeholders in this issue. The statement from the agency covering Southwark diocese includes the following paragraph (my emphasis highlights the different stakeholders):

The chosen option is to legally comply with the regulations as it offers the only transparent, straightforward and guaranteed way of preserving our full range of much needed services for some of the most vulnerable children in the country. Our Bishops, Trustees, Management and staff have all agreed that, in the circumstances, this is the most reasonable and responsible course of action for the greater good.

What is the role of the Bishops (and priests) in this situation? They should clearly teach that the placement of children with same sex couples is not a practice compatible with Catholic teaching and that, therefore, a Catholic cannot undertake that process without doing something that is objectively wrong. (Additional, subjective conditions to do with knowledge, freedom etc apply before one can define their action as being sinful.) They are also entitled to say that an agency that does choose to do this should not call themselves a "Catholic agency".

What is the role of Management and Staff? Now, this is interesting. For Catholic staff, there is a call to act in accordance with their conscience informed by Catholic teaching (cf the Bishops above). This is part of the character of lay vocation and arises, not from the direction of the Bishops, but from the lay person's own assimilation of Catholic teaching and their response to the vocation received through the Sacraments of Initiation to put Catholic life into practice in the secular world. This seems to me to be the place where the practical decision making as far as the future of Catholic child care agencies should rest. For non-Catholic staff working for these agencies, the question is not quite so clear cut as they may belong to other churches or religious organisations, or perhaps have no religious belief at all, and so not have the clear teaching on same sex relations that we have in the Catholic Church. One might hope, however, that these staff will share sufficiently the aims/objectives/ethos of a Catholic child care agency to make a similar judgement of conscience as their Catholic colleagues.

What is the role of trustees? A bit awkward as some trustees will be Bishops and others lay people, not necessarily with expertise in the child care field. The two roles I have distinguished sharply above appear to merge together here.

Where, then, does responsibility lie for the betrayal that some are seeing in the reactions of Catholic agencies? Let me express it as questions:

1. Are the Bishops and priests concerned clearly fulfilling their teaching obligations in this regard?
2. Are the Catholic staff of these agencies sufficiently well formed and firm in conscience to act in accord with Catholic teaching?

I think these are the essential questions, as what is happening with regard to these two questions really determines what it is possible for trustees to do. The lay Catholics involved must carry their responsibility in this matter, as well as the Bishops.

I am, of course, commenting on this from "outside", and recognise that it is much easier to do that than it is to make the decision when you are the person on the "inside". I really do not know what I would do if I were a social worker employed by a Catholic child care agency - all I can really say is that I hope I would make a decision that would not conflict with my Catholic faith. Without any condemnation at all, I hope and pray that Catholic social workers will find the courage to do that too.

[PS. I leave it to others to evaluate whether or not the Bishops, trustees, management and staff of Southwark's child care agency have really taken a course of action that is "reasonable", "responsible" and "for the greater good".]

Thursday 26 June 2008

International Eucharistic Congress: the problematic of large celebrations

There has been discussion recently of the appropriateness of celebrating Mass with a large number of the faithful and with large numbers of concelebrants. The terms of some of this discussion - should there be a maximum number of concelebrants allowed is one question being asked - seem to be similar to those of the discussions in the Consilium established to implement the Liturgical changes after the Second Vatican Council. Which is interesting in itself!

My experience at the Eucharistic Congress prompts two contrasting thoughts on this matter. Apart from the closing Mass Statio Orbis, Mass each day was celebrated in the "Coliseo Pepsi" on the conference site (the organisers re-branded some of the other buildings on the site for the duration of the Congress but do not seem to have succeeded in overcoming the Pepsi brand!) . The Coliseo is rather like a small, indoor sports stadium, able to seat something like 15 000 people or so. The seating arrangements are very much like you would find at a football ground or sports stadium, with access walk ways behind the seating area. You enter your seat through a tunnel from these walk ways, and then climb steps to your row.

How effectively can you "pray" the liturgy in this environment? My experience would give a positive answer. By an effective use of lighting and a sound system, and screens mounted above the arena that can be seen from the upper parts of the stands, a good focus was achieved on the sanctuary/altar area. I only realised half way through the opening Mass just how much I had focussed only onto the sanctuary/altar area - in a kind of orientation towards an "internal east" achieved in a most unexpected way. That I was not distracted by those around me also suggests that they were well focussed and attentive. However, people seated in more remote or higher parts of the stadium might have found it more difficult to achieve this focus and attention. (An ability to follow both French and English was also an advantage to my participation. )

At communion, people had to leave their seats, descend or ascend steps to the tunnels and go out into the walk ways to receive. By stint of good arrangements of, and sufficient numbers of priests, to distribute communion; and by calm, efficient ushering this was managed in total silence. The opening Mass was a bit muddled as people had not got used to the routine, but after that it just got better and better. One could receive communion in a very recollected manner, and make a thanksgiving as you waited to re-enter and return to your seat. (I had a very good experience in this regard - there might have been areas of the stadium where things were not managed so well, but I am under the impression that my experience was typical.) And every day there were numbers of people who knelt down in the stands near me for the Consecration, despite the difficulty of doing so.

The less satisfactory aspect - and I say this without any real thoughts as to how the difficulties could have been resolved - had to do with the consecration of hosts/wine placed on tables among the concelebrating bishops around the sanctuary/altar area rather than on the altar itself. One almost wondered whether the consecrating intention of the concelebrating bishops and priests "by-passed" in some way these hosts/wine as it was directed towards the main altar. Significant numbers of the concelebrating priests were in defined sections of the stands rather than near the altar, too. I became more uncomfortable with this aspect as the week progressed, though I could not think of any other way of doing things.

Possible solutions? You could use large numbers of hosts consecrated at earlier Masses to distribute Communion to the faithful - not ideal, but then neither is the situation described above. You could also limit the number of concelebrants, thereby allowing sufficient hosts to be placed on the main altar and removing the need for additional tables.

In practice, I think the Congress organisers struck a balance between being practical and respecting what one might call "principles"; I would not want to be seen as launching a major criticism of them. My experience suggests that it is possible to arrange large celebrations in a way that is prayerful and reverent for the faithful, and that, for an event such as a Eucharistic Congress, this is entirely appropriate. However, the question of the numbers and location of concelebrants is still a question needing a more defined answer.

POSTSCRIPT: As I finish writing this, the question occurs to me as to whether the question of "actual participation" (in the language of Vatican II) is not essentially the same as the question of an "internal east" (in the language of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI).

International Eucharistic Congress: the Ark of the New Covenant

I have already posted on the Ark of the New Covenant, and its pilgrimage around parishes and communities of Canada in preparation for the Eucharistic Congress. Just before the celebration of the opening Mass of the Congress, the Ark was carried in to the hall being used for the main events. As it was carried in, a series of Old and New Testament readings were proclaimed - starting from the first moments of creation (the prologue to St John's Gospel); moving on to the Ark built by Noah (the Scripture passage read recounted the blessing of Noah and his family as they left the Ark after the flood); then on to Moses bringing the tablets of the Covenant to the people in the desert; next, the account of the institution of the Eucharist and the establishment of the new covenant; and concluding with John the Baptist as the witness to the light, who gave to all who listened to his word the power to become children of God. It was a wonderfully devised catechesis. A video clip of this part of the opening ceremony can be found here. (You will need French to be able to follow the Scripture passages. )

At the end of the opening Mass, the Holy Eucharist was placed atop the Ark and carried out in procession to the room/chapel that would be used for silent Adoration, 24/7 for the remainder of the time of the Eucharistic Congress. My photographs of the Ark in this adoration room/chapel - named the Chapel of the New Covenant for the duration of the Congress:

As an exercise in the new evangelisation, the design and then pilgrimage of the Ark of the New Covenant is only matched by the pilgrimage of the Cross and Icon of the World Youth Day.

Now, Dublin, you have something to live up to .....

Wednesday 25 June 2008

International Eucharistic Congress: offertory processions

Please don't get me wrong - I found the Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City a hugely rewarding experience, with many very positive and encouraging points about it. I hope this is apparent, and will become more so, as I post about the Congress over the next few days.

One thing, though, did cause me to ask myself some questions, and that was the use of the offertory procession to express something of the culture of the continent which was the "feature continent" of the day. Now, if you look at the texts of the catecheses/talks during the week, and look at them as a whole you will see a debate taking place between different contributors. The Archbishop of Ranchi, in India, was a proponent of the need for inculturation of the Liturgy in the local place and praised the way in which the introduction of the vernacular had enabled participation by the faithful. I think it was Archbishop Ranchi who also observed that Vatican II had encouraged us to realise that the Liturgy was an action of the community. Cardinal Barbarin, of Lyon, however, observed that "the true celebrant is Jesus himself"; and Cardinal Riccard of Bourdeaux, referring to participation, spoke of a need to allow the Lord to be active in us, a need for an interior, spiritual participation in prayer.

Offertory processions during the Congress included on one day the bringing up of a kite (originally kites were made in China, and, according to the commentary, their rising in the sky was a sign of our hope as we come to God); on another day, coconuts and fruits; and at the final Mass Statio Orbis a model sailing boat (this was a gift from a diocese in France to the diocese of Quebec, in memory of a pilgrimage made from Quebec to the shrine of Our Lady of Rocamadour soon after the founding of the City).

Now, let me contrast this with the following, extracted from Fr Boyle's account of the First Communion Mass in his parish:

Just a few words of explanation: at the offertory, a tradition that I inherited when I came here 7+ years ago was that each child brings up a host in a beautifully prepared (by one of our parishioners) folded tissue 'basket' and the hosts are placed in the paten for the Offertory and Consecration, symbolising the offering of each one being made into one offering, as the grains of wheat are ground to become one loaf.

The answer to my questions about the offertory procession?

1. I do not think it is the place to insert the presentation of "presents" (essentially something without Liturgical significance, and, as in the case of the kite, sometimes without anything except a rather contrived religious significance). These types of presentations could take place outside of the Liturgy, if necessary, just before Mass begins.
2. Neither do I think it is appropriate to use the offertory to include cultural expressions of the local community. Such cultural expressions can be shown in the styles of artwork used in the Church or in the decoration of the Church (different flowers from the different continents could have been chosen to decorate the sanctuary each day, for example). An appropriate example of this use of artistic decoration to express the culture relevant to a particular celebration was, in my view, the design of the sanctuary for the Statio Orbis - the use of wood (a material widely used in Quebec) and its design as a boat (to represent the arrival of the first settlers and missionaries at the foundation of Quebec City 400 years ago).
3. I think I would want to make a case that the only gifts to be presented at the offertory are the bread and wine that will be consecrated to become the Body and Blood of Christ. As a specifically lay moment in the Liturgy, it represents the gathering together of all things in Christ and the making new of the whole of creation in Christ - the bread and wine (anticipation of the Eucharistic presence) are sufficient in themselves to fully represent this. The tradition in Fr John's parish seems to rather beautifully express this for children making their First Communion. The host that they bring up represents their bringing together in Christ the whole of their lives up to that moment, and their lives then being made new in Christ. (It is, of course, the completion of their being made new in Christ that began at baptism.)

International Eucharistic Congress: the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament

On Thursday evening of the week of the Congress, a procession with the Blessed Sacrament took place. This began at the venue of the main Congress activities, a conference/exhibition centre about 4 km from the centre of Quebec City (think perhaps of something like G-MEX in Manchester or the Earl's Court in London). It then walked 5.3 km into the centre of Quebec, finishing in an outdoor auditorium in the docks area of Quebec. (Quebec's docks have undergone, on a rather smaller scale, the sort of renewal that has taken place in London's docklands, with entertainment venues and a marina.)

We did cheat a bit, and walked ahead to join the procession as it reached its first "stop" at the Church of St Francis.
This enabled me to take the following photograph as the Blessed Sacrament arrived outside the Church.

This was an event for which the 10 000 or so Congress participants were joined by many others from Quebec City and the surrounding area. The total number of people joining the procession "easily passed 20 000" according to one newspaper report, and was put at 25 000 during the sessions of the Congress on the following day. One view of the crowds is shown below.

One of the official photographs:

The media coverage in Quebec City the following day was not very sympathetic. One newspaper I saw commented that it was "mostly older people" - I don't know where they got that from, as there was a good cross-section of ages taking part so far as I could see. The same newspaper also commented on the fact that, despite the Church in Quebec always saying it wanted to be "of our times", its old fashioned hierarchical structures were shown again by the ordering of priests, bishops, cardinals and religious in places of precedence in the procession. The fact that the Eucharist itself and three lead clergy travelled on a float also drew adverse comment, even though the report recognised that Cardinal Marc Ouellet travelled most of the way on his knees in adoration: "they did not walk in the streets". But, as I recall reading somewhere, when the Church is mocked, is that when she is being most true to herself?

The majority of those in the procession had to remain at the second "stop". As the procession entered the narrow streets of the centre of Quebec City there just was not room for them all. And only a relatively small number were able to complete the last stage to the "Agora" in the docks.

This was a public expression of Catholic faith in Jesus presence in the Eucharist of which I am proud to have been able to be a part!

Blog by the Sea

This is the name of the blog referred to in the post below, in connection with the International Eucharistic Congress. I have now explored it a bit further, and it looks very good. It demonstrates a wide range of interests and a very readable approach to some complex subjects.

An interesting, and useful feature, that I have not seen before on a blog is that the front page of the blog shows only the most recent posts. Older posts have to be opened via the list of categories on the right hand side.

The three links to Pope Benedict XVI, for example, include summaries and links to his speeches. The 2008 link covers Pope Benedict's General Audience addresses on the Fathers of the Church.

This is a link to the blog:

International Eucharistic Congress

I have come across this post that summarizes much of what happened in Quebec for the International Eucharistic Congress. As well as summarising the events, and offering brief comments, the poster has included links to texts such as homilies so that you can go and read the originals. Recommended for a visit.

The post includes the following explanation of the concept of the Statio Orbis Mass at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Congress:

What Is a "Statio Orbis" Mass?
The term "Statio Orbis" came into being at the concluding celebration of the 37th Eucharistic Congress held in Munich 1960. Since then, the concluding celebration of Eucharistic Congresses has had particular Churches from various parts of the world join in communion with the Pope or one of his Legates, called a "Statio Orbis" Mass.

The word "Statio" means "station," as in "station days" in Tertullian's De Oratione. Because Wednesday and Friday, as "station days," were characterized by watchings and processions, when the faithful remained standing, the word "statio" eventually came to mean the place where the faithful walked in procession and stood for the celebration of the liturgy. The churches to which they went came to be known as "stationes" and the route to them became known as the "statio ad" (station to, meaning the procession route to) that place. Station days of that kind were once held in Rome, Constantinople and Jerusalem. Records that remain today give us the most information about such processions in Rome. Going to the "statio" was a major ceremony at one time, in which people carried all of the papal vessels used for the celebration of the Eucharist to a pilgrimage site or station church. The concept may be somewhat familiar today from the station churches of Rome during Lent.

The word "Orbis" means "circle," "ring" or "orb." In ancient Latin documents, it referred to the world. In the phrase "statio orbis," it refers to the global nature of the gathering for the papal closing Mass of each Congress.

There is more information in an interview with Archbishop Piero Marini in the EWTN library, which specifically mentions the Statio Orbis Masses, and an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which talks about the history of station days and the word "statio". Catholic Culture also has an article about the past and present practice of station churches.

Tuesday 24 June 2008

The International Eucharistic Congress: starting at the end ...

To start my posts after the Eucharistic Congress, I have to cover the concluding celebration of Mass Statio Orbis....I can't think why ...

This is the sanctuary and altar, designed to look like a sailing boat. This commemorates the arrival by sailing ship of the first settlers, and the first missionaries, in Quebec. The Eucharistic Congress was part of the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the city of Quebec. The wood may look rather stark here in England, but wood is a standard building material in Quebec. Many houses have wooden exteriors, and wooden floors etc are common inside them. In the foreground of the altar you can see the Ark of the New Covenant.

Before Mass began - bright sunshine which began to give way to a slight overcast. I think there were somewhere between 20 000 and 30 000 people on the Plains of Abraham for Mass, with others watching on a live TV broadcast across Canada. Streaming via the internet will have given a world wide audience.

Fast forward to the end of Mass, and it looked like this! The rain gradually intensified as Mass went along, becoming totally torrential just in time for Holy Communion. Glastonbury mud had nothing on this. The papal representative, Cardinal Tomko, who was the main celebrant, observed as Mass concluded that rain was a sign of God's blessing. Accordingly, we had received an abundance of God's blessings.

Yours truly, waiting for Mass to start, dressed up (and at that time, dry), ready to proclaim the first reading. The team looking after readers for the various Liturgical celebrations looked after us very well, and gave us a good experience.

This is a close up of the ambo, which had been used for all the Congress Masses during the week.

And this is me during my reading (photo credit: official photographer). If the bishops behind me look a bit all over the place, do have some sympathy for them. The sound system included two speakers located on the sides of the altar to enable them to hear what was happening .... but they were so poorly adjusted that you really could not hear a thing that was going on if you were up on the sanctuary. The reading went a dream, as did the second reading (in Spanish), proclaimed by the lady shown below (photo credit: official photographer).

Friday 13 June 2008

International Eucharistic Congress: excitement, excitement ...

Later this morning, I will start my journey to Quebec for the International Eucharistic Congress. This will mean a suspension in posting here until 24th June. If you want to follow the Congress during the week, and are promising coverage.
This is, in itself, exciting enough. But there has been a bit of added excitement ....

NEWS RELEASE: for immediate use

Catechist from Romford to read at Mass during International Eucharistic Congress

A member of St Edward the Confessor RC parish in Romford, Essex is scheduled to proclaim one of the Scripture readings at the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec, Canada. Joseph Sowerby is the lead catechist for Eucharistic Adoration in St Edward’s parish, and organises monthly days of Adoration and an annual “Forty Hours” celebration in the parish.

Joseph said: “The concluding Mass Statio Orbis is the focus and high point of the whole Eucharistic Congress, a visible expression of the communion of the whole Church. To be asked to read at this Mass is a tremendous privilege. I feel as if I will be representing the Eucharistic devotion of my parish to the universal Church”.

The concluding Mass Statio Orbis will be celebrated on Sunday 22nd June 2008 at 11 am Canadian time (4 pm UK time). The Mass will be celebrated in the Plains of Abraham park in Quebec City. The principal celebrant is Josef Cardinal Tomko, the Pope’s representative to the Eucharistic Congress. Pope Benedict XVI will preach at the Mass via a satellite link from Rome.

Fr Julian Green, the National Delegate for England and Wales for the Eucharistic Congress, said: “The Eucharistic Congress calls us all to celebrate and to renew our faith in Jesus who is truly present as the Eucharist, gift of God for the life of the world. The participation of a delegation from England and Wales in the Congress should encourage Catholics throughout England and Wales in their Eucharistic devotion”.


Notes for editors:

The 49th International Eucharistic Congress is taking place in Quebec City, Canada, starting on Sunday 15th June 2008 and ending on Sunday 22nd June 2008.

The Congress website, which carries more details about the Congress, can be found at:

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Even more about dialogue: Jacques Maritain part 2

Continued from yesterday's post.

Jacques Maritain summarises what he sees as the fundamental renewal in the Christian attitude towards non-Christians that should follow Vatican II in the following way:

... the absolute primacy of agape, of brotherly love fully liberated in the soul; in sucha way that the great renewal of attitude of Christians towards non-Christians with which we are concerned here may be described as a kind of epiphany of evangelical love.

But what takes place in the depth of the soul also involves a certain external behaviour and is translated into action, and this leads Jacques Maritain to identify three "zones of behaviour" that follow.

1. In the first zone, the Christian bears witness to his love before men by his life. The Christian can, responding to a call that has been newly perceived in the Gospel, go and hide himself in the midst of the non-Christians that he loves. He has no other purpose than to love them and understand them with love, living among them to share their poverty and suffering. There need not be the least intention to convert them, not even by any sort of "pre-apostolate". One can think here of Madeleine Delbrel's choice to live with her companions in a Communist suburb of Paris. In the language of phases of evangelisation, this might now be called "presence in charity"; it is a kind of Christian presence in which to evangelise explicitly might bring a justifiable charge of "proselytism".

2. In the second zone, the Christian bears witness to his love by action. Jacques Maritain is here thinking of brotherly charity in the areas of, say, relief of poverty, aid to the sick, social and economic aid to underdeveloped countries. He extends this work to include that of intellectuals, who attempt to understand and appreciate the culture and religions typical of non-Christian lands; and argues that, in a reciprocal way, non-Christian scholars could also study Christian topics. It is not that Chrstians would agree with the interpretations offered by non-Christian scholars, but that it would provide a chance for them to widen their horizons. This might be the zone of behaviour that is most readily recognised by the term "dialogue", though I do not think dialogue should be a concept limited to this zone only.

3. The third zone of behaviour is that of the apostolate and of missionary activity. This is "the highest conceivable work of charity", and accords with the command of the Lord to teach all nations. Jacques Maritain points out that, though this is the highest in the order of activity, it does not displace the centrality of agape, of self-giving love which is at the heart of all three zones of behaviour.

It is interesting to see this third zone included. It removes the temptation to replace missionary activity with presence or activity in charity. They each have their respective places in the life of the Christian, but the latter does not replace the former without distorting the content of Christian faith and mission.

Tuesday 10 June 2008

Even more on dialogue: Jacques Maritain part 1

A couple of days ago, I followed the link from Fr Tim's post about Jacques Maritain's authorship with regard to the Credo of the People of God to this article. The reference in this article to Jacques Maritain's Peasant of the Garonne prompted me to pull it off my bookshelves earlier today while I had a cup of tea. I alighted on Chapter 4, entitled "Christians and Non-Christians".

Having considered Christians and non-Christians in their common humanity precisely as all being men (sorry, humankind, to update Maritain's vocabulary to contemporary sensitivities), and making the suggestion that this allows the possibility of agreement on practical action for the common good among those who radically disagree on principles, he goes on to consider them as members of Christ:

I am considering them as members of Christ: explicitly and visibly members of Christ if they are Christians (living members if they have grace, "dead" members if they have lost it); members of Christ implicitly and invisibly if being non-Christians they have Christ's grace; potentially and invisibly members of Christ if being similarly non-Christians they do not have Christ's grace.... one guise or another and in one way or another, all men (humankind ...), at least potentially, are members of Christ ...

From this, Jacques Maritain argues that we must have an interior conversion in our attitude towards our fellow men that is based on recognising in them the reality of their, at least potential, membership of Christ:

.... it is by reason of this mysterious supernatural reality that men, as divided as they might be in their most profound convictions, can and should look each other in the eyes with respect, and desire a true mutual comprehension, and be ready to help one another sincerely.

And it is the next paragraph that expresses a principle that might be called a principle of dialogue:

How can this happen? By knowing (I am speaking of Christians and Christians know this) that they are all members of Christ, at least potentially, and all called to the life of grace and charity; and by each one presupposing (I am still speaking of Christians) that the other lives in the grace and charity of God. When it comes to non-Christians, they can do this by making an analagous supposition each from his own religious or philosophical standpoint (even if, in the case of the atheist, it is only the perspective of universal human solidarity and the common vocation of mankind).

This approach does, of course, depend on the possibility of the non-Christian making that "analagous supposition", and that this is possible across all other religions and non-religious belief systems.

To see how Jacques Maritain develops more fully a praxis of dialogue, see part 2 ....

More on dialogue

ZENIT has today carried the text of Pope Benedict XVI's address when he received in audience the members of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the end of their recent plenary meeting. Here is one paragraph:

"Dialogue in 'veritate et caritate': Pastoral Orientations" -- this is the theme of your Plenary Assembly. I am happy to learn that during these days you have sought to arrive at a deeper understanding of the Catholic Church's approach to people of other religious traditions. You have considered the broader purpose of dialogue -- to discover the truth -- and the motivation for it, which is charity, in obedience to the divine mission entrusted to the Church by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Along with Cardinal Tauran's recent lecture, this address provides principles for engaging in interreligious dialogue. I believe that the same principles for dialogue can be extended to dialogue with non-believers in secular society, and can underly a Christian engagement in the political and social spheres.

The extract from Pope Benedict does, however, highlight a key point. Dialogue needs to be seen as a collaborative attempt "to discover the truth". Dialogue cannot be based on indifference to the truth, or on the idea that there is no such a thing as objective truth.

And this is why, I suspect, civil society in developed nations, as expressed in their political and social manifestations, is finding to very difficult to enter into a proper dialogue with religions. They appear to be limited to the co-option of religion (seen in a secular, non-religious way) to the "social cohesion" agenda, an agenda that remains inadequate unless it has a relation to truth and genuine good.

A document on interreligious dialogue now appears to be in preparation. I look forward to its appearance in due course.

Monday 9 June 2008

International Eucharistic Congress: fast approaching ...

My trip to Quebec is rather exciting! I haven't been on a long haul flight before, so I have no idea how I will cope with being cooped up on a plane for the transatlantic flight. I have got the flight socks (I was not given any choice in this, since the person I am travelling with has no intention of spending our time in Quebec visiting a hospital) and I have got two long books (William Hague's biography of Pitt the Younger, for the journey out, and of William Wilberforce, for the journey back). My travelling companion finally does believe that our accomodation is really booked (after Cologne 2005, we have promised ourselves always to have beds to sleep in on trips rather than a floor) and that we are registered with the Eucharistic Congress, and that Quebec is a real place.

Having been very taken by the idea of the Ark of the New Covenant that has been on pilgrimage, visiting Catholic communities around Canada, and most recently, being walked from the shrine of the Canadian Martyrs to Quebec (some 1000 km), one of the things I am very much looking forward to is seeing it "live". I used three of the icons from the Ark as themes for the Extended Days of Adoration in the parish this year.

The photograph shows the Ark during one of its visits. It looks as if the young children are having a careful look at the icons - providing a prompt to Eucharistic catechesis was the reason for the icons, so it is fulfilling that part of its purpose. It looks, too, as if the Eucharist is exposed in the monstrance on top of the Ark, again fulfilling the purpose of the Ark as being a prompt to Eucharistic celebration. Some might wish for a greater manifestation of adoration, but a "being at home" in the presence of the Lord during a time of children's adoration is something that I see in our parish on a "First Friday", and it is not necessarily irreverent.

And I realised yesterday that, since we will be away for 11 days, I need to set up the July "First Friday" before I go or I will miss my usual schedule of posters and advance notices. The theme for that is going to be that of the World Youth Day: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses".

Sunday 8 June 2008

Is death fatal?

I have just heard the following comment from a Conservative politician being interviewed on the radio. I missed her name, but she was responding to the proposal for a two step congestion charge for Manchester. The transport minister, who I think is due to make the announcement in Parliament tomorrow, represents a constituency in Greater Manchester, but outside the proposed congestion charge boundaries. Many of her constituents, however, probably work in Manchester, so could be affected by the congestion charges.

In this context, the Conservative spokeswoman said:

"The thing with political suicide is that you can live to regret it".

The radio, of course, does not let you know if the interviewer was able to keep a straight face!

Saturday 7 June 2008

International Eucharistic Congress

With now just a week to go to the opening Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec, I thought I would look at this weekend's Catholic press here in England to read their coverage of this event.

Did I miss it?

Friday 6 June 2008

Bishops, laity and politics

The following is from a recent ZENIT news report:

After being criticized by the secular media for being reticent on moral issues, the archbishop of Quebec acknowledged that the country's bishops really should speak out more.

Peter Kavanaugh of CBC radio admitted last week at the International Catholic Media Convention in Toronto of being envious of the United Kingdom, where the bishops there are willing "to actually engage in public, in the fiercest of terms, an issue that they saw as being vital to the future of the nation and the future of humanity," reported

I have found it quite interesting to reflect on the role taken by the Catholic Bishops of the United Kingdom during the recent debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Over quite a long period of time, briefing material was produced on their behalf and circulated and posted on their website. Speeches were made by a number of Bishop and press statements released by them; lay Catholics were encouraged to lobby their Members of Parliament. The Bishops deep seated opposition to key points of the Bill was made clear by those four or five bishops who acted as spokesmen for the others.

Thought 1: it is quite right that the Bishops should "teach" and "give a lead" on these issues.

Thought 2: the fields of politics, and of science and technology, and of medicine could rightly be seen as areas of lay engagement, where lay Catholics take their (secular) professional expertise into action in the light of faith, so it is really up to lay people to take the lead on these sorts of issues.

There is clearly a balance to be achieved between these two thoughts, and also a reflection to be made on whether that balance was correctly and effectively achieved during the recent events surrounding the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

I think the balance of the two thoughts could be reflected in two role models. My role model for the "Thought 1" approach would be Archbishop Oscar Romero. His pastoral letters are profoundly rooted in the Magisterium of the Church, and then apply that Magisterium to the situation in El Salvador at his time. His Sunday homilies, broadcast to the nation by radio, spoke out the truth about violence and injustice that otherwise would not have been admitted or generally known. However, he incessantly called for an end to violence and for an end to injustice; and while these calls may have most often been addressed to those in Government, they were in principle equally applicable to opposition groups as well. So, I think the Bishop's role is to teach the truth of the Catholic faith, applied to the current local situation, and be willing to express judgements as to whether or not particular actions or proposed policies are in accordance with truth and justice as taught by Catholic faith.

My role model for the "Thought 2" approach is Rocco Buttiglione. He was proposed by Italy as a commisioner for the European Union in 2004 (I think!). At a pre-appointment hearing, he was put on the spot about the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality, since he had been nominated for the Commission portfolio that would have included equalities issues. As result of making a very cautious and carefully expressed statement of that teaching and refusing to deny that it was what he believed (but at the same time clearly defending the principle of non-discrimination in public life, which is what mattered to his holding public office), Rocco Buttiglione became the subject of considerable public criticism. Eventually, the withdrawal of his nomination as a European commisioner was forced on Italy. What is of interest here (and, I suspect, in other areas of Rocco Buttiglione's political and academic career too) is that, as a lay person, in the area of his own professional expertise and experience, he made a stand for a point of Catholic teaching that cost him a prestigious politcal appointment. For me, Rocco Buttiglione is the outstanding contemporary lay witness to Catholic teaching on homosexuality. So, I think the lay person's role is to use their professional expertise to judge when and how to act in witness to the content of Catholic teaching, and to do this on their own initiative and not just at the direction of the Bishops.

To evaluate the recent approach by the Catholic Church towards the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, we can perhaps ask some questions.

Question 1: Did the Bishops do more than teach the content of faith and apply it in making known their judgements as to whether the provisions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill were compatible with truth and justice as expressed in Catholic teaching? Did the Bishops engage in a politcal campaign that might have more appropriately been led by lay people?

Question 2: Did Catholic politicians, particularly Cabinet members, really
act in witness to the judgements expressed by the Bishops and rooted in Catholic teaching? Or did they fudge it? Did other lay Catholics really run with political and media campaign that was properly theirs, rather than relying on the public stance of the Bishops?

On a more personal note that reflect this discussion, I was a Parliamentary candidate for the ProLife Alliance during the 1997 General Election (a fascinating experience which taught me a lot about the electoral process). At the time, my parish priest received some criticism from others for not coming out in support of my candidature. But it had never occurred to me that he should (or could) endorse the particular approach to pro-life politics represented at that election by the ProLife Alliance. I considered it to be up to me a as a lay person to make the decision about what I was doing and how I was going to translate pro-life principles into political action. If I recall correctly, not everyone who was pro-life thought that the ProLife Alliance activity at that election was appropriate, and it clearly had great potential for mishap.

Uncle's Taxi (or why there has been a slight hiatus in posting)

Imagine six children and two parents, and try to work out the number of possible permutations of different locations for this "six plus two", bearing in mind that at any one time (generally speaking), every one of the "six" must always be accompanied by one of the "two".

Then imagine football training, after school athletics, three rehearsals at Church for a first Communion Mass, cub camp (drop off at), scout hike (drop off at), travel to and from three different schools, a birthday for one of the "six" .... all within 24 hours of each other.

I have spent the last couple of days helping out by being "uncle's taxi" ....

(The birthday was solved by blowing out the candles and eating the cake after breakfast).

Tuesday 3 June 2008

Catholic renewal in Canada

As the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec approaches (less than two weeks now!), ZENIT are carrying a report of Catholic renewal in Canada.

The report outlines how the Eucharistic Congress has come to be held in Quebec, suggesting an interesting openess of the civil authorities in Quebec to recognising the Catholic basis of the city's history and culture.

Another interesting aspect of the report is the reference to the annual gatherings of Canadian young people, which have been a key feature of the preparation for the Eucharistic Congress. This issued in the journey of the Ark of the New Covenant to which I referred here.

There is also an account of an interesting initiative in priestly formation, which involves seminarians living in community in a parish while they undertake their academic studies at a nearby seminary. It is based on a new community, established as a society of apostolic life of diocesan right.

And, if you read down the ZENIT report, you will find an account of how a group of homeschooling families came to establish a Catholic college to provide a Catholic alternative to the secularising influences of the education system.

Monday 2 June 2008

Lourdes part 5: reflections on the meaning of art

A feature of the 150th anniversary year in Lourdes has been the completion of a number of projects that might be described as works of "art" as well as being works of devotion. I think of the new mosaics on the facade of the Rosary Basilica and of the completion of the new Stations of the Cross on the prairie; also the publication of a book like Alina Reyes La jeune fille et la Vierge.

This prompts a reflection on what it is that constitutes a genuine work or art.

The mosaics of the Mysteries of Light on the Rosary Basilica were designed by a priest of Slovenian origin, Father Marko Ivan Rupnik.

For Father Rupnik a prayerful atmosphere is both a way of life and creativity, which he shares with his team of some fifteen artists and technicians from the Centre Aletti (in Rome): "We pray in eight languages according to seven different Churches. For me, the testimony of prayer is to be found in charity. If I see that the artists get on together, that we help one another, that there is true cohesion, then I am convinced taht God is here in our midst. ... Every day during Mass, we all offer our work through the bread and wine of the Eucharist so that the project and our labour remain united to Christ. We are only poor artists, but we are also perfectly aware that everything we do can contribute to creating a meeting between Man and God. This is the reason why we pay so much attention to the faces and the gaze of our figures. An exchange must be possible."[Lourdes Magazine January-February 2008]

The new Stations of the Cross for the sick were implemented in white Carrera marble by a sculptor called Maria de Faykod, over a five year period stretching from February 2003 to February 2008. The sculptor has also written the meditations published in a booklet, along with striking photographs of each of the new Stations of the Cross. To the traditional fourteen stations, Maria has added three new stations so that the complete work becomes a Way of the Cross and a Way of the Resurrection. These new stations are those of Mary awaiting the Resurrection, the Resurrection of Jesus itself and the Theophany of the Resurrected Christ to the Disciples of Emmaus (Transubstantiation). In his introduction to the booklet of meditations, the Rector of the Shrine at Lourdes writes:

The Church has always liked and encouraged artists. They are the people, in fact, to whom Heaven has given a sixth sense to express that which is deepest in man. Only artists are capable of allowing us to sense the real meaning of the human soul. ... We know that the Ancients used to say that Beauty is the splendour of Truth, and that Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, are in constant dialogue with each other. This can be seen in all its fullness in this Way of the Cross. It is founded on the truth of the Gospel writings and the Tradition of the Church. It is beautiful, and because of this it touches our deepest emotions. Let us not be mistaken however, its beauty is not solely limited to the aesthetics of its perfectly executed forms. This Way of the Cross is mysteriously inhabited by a Presence, traversed by a powerful Breath from one end to the other, which raises us up and carries us very high and very far ...

Alina Reyes book was one of the main books promoted at a book fair held in Lourdes in February 2008. The author's encounter, not so much with Lourdes as with Bernadette, came at a difficult time in her life (I have yet to get hold of and read the novel Foret profonde which describes this), and she attributes to it her return to life. Talking about the event of the apparitions of Lourdes, Alina Reyes says:

I tried to show the literary dimension of this event, and what strikes me is its resemblance to the beginning of Genesis. "God said ... And there was light". The word of God is a light; this is what is happening in Lourdes. The word which Bernadette transmitted to the world testifies to this "light", as she says at the beginning, which appeared to her in the "darkness" of the grotto. [Lourdes Magazine April-May 2008]

Alina Reyes writes of Lourdes as a "whole place that speaks", so that we can see the word spoken through the apparitions is the same as the word spoken by the surrounding mountains. She also speaks of the Lady who appears as expressing the possibility that there is an original purity in creation that can be rediscovered in the Immaculate and that we can rediscover in ourselves.

All of these artists, in quite different ways (and in the case of Alina Reyes, in a way which is less clearly a manifestation of Catholic faith and rather an expression of an encounter with Bernadette), show something of the interiority of human life, the spiritual dimension of creation, the permanent and the essential that live in the physical forms of our lives. Ultimately it should be seen as expressing the life of grace that moves and heals - and that is what makes their works to be works of art.

Sunday 1 June 2008

Interreligious Dialogue - a risk or an opportunity?

This is the title of an article by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. It is adapted from a lecture, with the same title, that Cardinal Tauran gave at Heythrop College on 27th May 2008. The article can be found at Thinking Faith, the on-line journal of the British Jesuits and the text of the lecture can be found on the website of the English and Welsh Bishops Conference.

I would recommend the article for study. It contains a careful articulation of what constitutes authentic dialogue and, though its context is most immediately interreligious dialogue, its thinking on this could be extended to dialogue between religions and non-believers.

What is dialogue? It is the search for an inter-understanding between two individuals with a view to a common interpretation of their agreement or their disagreement. It implies a common language, honesty in the presentation of one's position and the desire to do one's utmost to understand the other's point of view .... Each religion has its own identity but this identity enables me to take the religion of the other into consideration. It is from this that dialogue is born. Identity, otherness and dialogue go together.

And, in a very nice phrase, Cardinal Tauran says:

But be careful: we do not say "all religions are of equal value". We say "All those in search of God have equal dignity".

The situation of Marriage Care (see post of yesterday) and of some Catholic Childrens Societies responding to equalities legislation seems to raise the question of whether or not their kind of "arms length" relationship to the Church represents a genuine form of dialogue between the Church and secular society. A similar question arises from the position of non-Catholic students following courses at Catholic schools or colleges.

I think what I am trying to suggest in this post is that all these situations should be seen as examples of where the Church is in dialogue with society. The evaluation of particular forms of activity should then be undertaken using an idea of what constitutes authentic dialogue. Cardinal Tauran's article provides useful principles for what this authentic dialogue is.