Daily Archives: December 26, 2009

Catholic means “Here Comes Everybody!”

I have just finished reading an article by Sandro Magister (“Go forth and baptize”) on the situtation in the Catholic Church in Argentina.

The problem concerned rigorism in application to the question of who should be admitted to baptism. As Magister puts it:

What reemerges here is the ancient and still unresolved dispute between a Church of the elite, a pure, minority Church, and a Church of the masses, populated also by that immense sea of humanity for whom Christianity is made up of a few simple things.

This is relevant to a comment Christine recently made on Acroamaticus’ blog. She commented of the Catholic Church: “A “baptized” membership of billions, even though many are practically unevangelized pagans.”

The whole article by Magister is worth reading in this regard, but I am reminded of a comment that James Joyce originally made in his novel Finnigan’s Wake: “Catholic means ‘Here comes everybody'”. By the sheer fact of the universal nature of the Church, we do not have the luxury of requiring a high degree of catechisation of everyone who wishes to be a member of it. The problem is, as Magister points out, a perennial one, but it is one that we live with for the sake of the gospel. Rigourism was rejected by the early Church (against Tertullian and others). We are not about to reintroduce it now.

Christine made another similar comment at the end of the same string on Mark’s blog in response to something I said:

The price of full communion is full acceptance of Catholic doctrine.

Hmmm. Forgive me for being cheeky, but perhaps the Catholic Church ought to work on that premise for her own before requiring it of others 🙂

Well, from my experience, those whom I admitted into membership of the Lutheran Church when I was a pastor were always better catechised than those who were already members of the congregation and who had not had any formal catechisation since their confirmation. I think this is normal. We often require a greater degree of acceptance of the public teachings of a community at the point of admission and initiation than we do of those already in the community. The same goes for immigrants, who are often expected to show a degree of knowledge about our country and loyalty to it which is much higher than that required of those who are born here!


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“Ave Maria” at St Paul’s Lutheran Church

Well, we did have an enjoyable Christmas this year. Our children are growing up, so instead of going to the 6:30pm Family Mass at their school’s mass centre, we went to 8:30pm Lessons and Carols at their Lutheran Parish of St Paul in Box Hill. I then went to Midnight Mass in my parish, and in the morning we were back at St Paul’s so the rest of my family could make their Christmas communion. That also gave us time to have a relaxed Christmas Eve dinner of seafood together, before opening the first gift – a new Nativity set.

Midnight Mass at my parish was a bit of a disappointment. Except for four carols instead of four hymns, it was just spoken mass like any Sunday. No incense, no carols, no chant (not even sung congregational pieces of the liturgy), in fact, come to think of it, I didn’t even see a Christmas tree! The young woman who played the piano and led the singing was very good (a great talent, even), but she wasn’t given much scope for anything other than the carols. It was all over in 45 minutes.

Lessons and Carols at St Paul’s, however, was a great treat. The choir and organist there are top notch, and their selection was brilliant. I have listed the full program on my other blog, together with a discussion of one of the carols, “Est ist ein Ros”.

But what I wish to discuss here is another short piece they did, a setting of “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebel. This is a sublime setting, which they have used before at other services. BUT, you say, how can Lutherans sing the Ave Maria? I’m glad you asked.

Back when a former assitant pastor was at St Paul’s, he (who shall not be named so as not to embarass him) suggested that instead of “Sancte Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis…etc.” they should sing “Domine Jesu, Agnus Dei, ora pro nobis…etc.”

It works musically. But does it work theologically – either from a Catholic or a Protestant point of view? My thought is: NO.

Why is this? Because it demotes the role of Jesus as the One Mediator.

This arises from a point which Lutherans constatly miss about the Catholic practice of invoking Mary’s prayers. They say we treat her like God, because you can only pray to God. In fact, what we are doing when we invoke the sants is asking our brothers and sisters in Christ (living or dead) to “pray for us” THROUGH the mediatorship of Christ.

We fully recognise that the Scriptures say that both Jesus and the Spirit “intercede for us” at the right hand of the Father. That isn’t in dispute. But the fact is that “pray for us” is an invocation that the Christian tradition has always and only addressed to human beings. Nowhere in the whole tradition do we ask JESUS to pray for us – or the Holy Spirit for that matter. Thus, to replace Mary with Jesus in the Ave Maria as the opposite effect that Lutherans would want to achieve by such an alteration. Rather than exalt Jesus as the One Mediator, they demote him to an intercessor among others.

There is another, unrelated, idea that sprang to my mind while reflecting upon this. Protestants say that praying to the saints is a practice that is unallowable since nowhere in Scripture are we told that we should or can do so. I have tried elsewhere to explain why this is an allowable and venerable practice, and had my explanation dismissed as “speculation”.

The fact is – note this well – there is nowhere in Scripture where we are told to pray to Jesus either! Nor do we find anywhere in Scripture where Jesus is prayed to, rather than the Father through or in the name of Jesus (I am discounting here for the moment the places in the Gospels where blindmen and lepers etc pray “Kyrie eleison” to Jesus as he is passing by – that is not, in those contexts, strictly a prayer to the exalted Christ).

I do not wish to reject the devotional practice of prayer to Jesus – or the Holy Spirit, of course (it should be noted that in the liturgical tradition of the Church – with very few exceptions which prove the rule – prayer is always offered to the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit). But I am saying that we justify the practice based on a theology of the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God, a theology that was worked out (speculated?) after the completion of the Scriptural writings.

Just another “tradition” that Protestants have not rejected, and which a strictly “sola scriptura” approach should reject.


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Another bit of proof that all religions are different

A Jewish friend rang me this morning to ask what she could do about a situation in Indonesia where a Catholic Church has been attacked by local mobs. We were both made aware of this from a circular newsletter from an Indonesian Catholic whom we met at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. I said that there does not appear to be much that we can do, and that the locals appear to be handling the situation. I recommended however that we need not be “bystanders” – “Write back to him and say that you will keep the situation in your prayers”, I advised, since praying is often the most affective thing we can do in cases like this.

“But what if you don’t believe in God?” she answered. I was not aware that my friend was what is called a “secular Jew”, that is, a person who follows all the Jewish religious laws and cultural traditions, but is, in fact, an atheist. It may come as a surprise to readers of this blog that in fact the category “secular Jew” is one of the dominant kinds of Judaism represented in Australia. Another friend told me that there are even synagogues for secular Jews now…

So I was not particularly surprised – in fact, I guessed when I saw the title on my igoogle news widget – that this article “Why we need religion, but God is optional” was written by a secular Jew.

Which is proof once again that the word “religion” is used so very many ways, that it is practically impossible to come up with a “one size fits all” definition. Oddly enough, even Zwier puts forward a rather standard definition of religion “as being represented by God, Revelation and Truth”. But this simply isn’t the case. It is well known that Buddhism does not have a deity (properly speaking). And as this article demonstrates, it is quite possible to be an observant Jew AND an atheist. I have heard of “secular Muslims”, but they usually don’t go as far as the secular Jews in rejecting faith as such. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, there is strong 20th Century “tradtion” of Christianity which rejects “religion” in favour of God.

Just an observation.


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This has to be a joke, right?

Okay, I’ve checked the calendar, and it is definitely St Stephen’s Day, not April Fool’s Day. So someone pease tell me that this is a joke?

See: http://www.robertblairkaiser.com/

(Actually, I guess there is always the possibility that it IS a joke, only the author doesn’t realise it…)


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